It was realized early in the history of Konarka that the ability to produce fibers that generate power from solar energy could be applied to a wide variety of applications where fabrics are utilized currently. These applications include personal items such as jackets, shirts and hats, to architectural uses such as awnings, tents, large covers for cars, trucks and even doomed stadiums, to indoor furnishings such as window blinds, shades and drapes. They may also be used as small fabric patches or fiber bundles for powering or recharging batteries in small sensors. Power generating fabrics for clothing is of particular interest to the military where they would be used in uniforms and body armor where portable power is vital to field operations. In strong sunlight these power generating fabrics could be used as a primary source of energy, or they can be used in either direct sunlight or low light conditions to recharge batteries. Early in 2002, Konarka performed a series of proof-of-concept experiments to demonstrate the feasibility of building a photovoltaic cell using dye-sensitized titania and electrolyte on a metal wire core. The approach taken was based on the sequential coating processes used in making fiber optics, namely, a fiber core, e.g., a metal wire serving as the primary electrode, is passed through a series of vertically aligned coating cups. Each of the cups contains a coating fluid that has a specific function in the photocell. A second wire, used as the counter electrode, is brought into the process prior to entering the final coating cup. The latter contains a photopolymerizable, transparent cladding which hardens when passed through a UV chamber. Upon exiting the UV chamber, the finished PV fiber is spooled. Two hundred of foot lengths of PV fiber have been made using this process. When the fiber is exposed to visible radiation, it generates electrical power. The best efficiency exhibited by these fibers is 6% with an average value in the 4-5 % range.
The overall power conversion efficiency of organic solar cells depends on many factors, some of which such as photon absorption, charge carrier photogeneration, separation and transport are intrinsic properties of the active material. The use of low-bandgap conjugated polymers in polymer/fullerene bulk heterojunctions improves the spectral overlap between the polymer absorption and the solar irradiance spectrum, and is therefore a promising route toward increased light harvesting and higher power conversion efficiency of polymer photovoltaics. We present our studies on the optical and charge transport properties of a novel low-bandgap conjugated polymer, poly[2,6-(4,4-bis-(2-ethylhexyl)-4H-cyclopenta[2,1-b;3,4-b']dithiophene)-alt-4,7-(2,1,3-benzothiadiazole)], PCPDTBT, with an optical energy gap of Eg=1.46 eV. The combination of steady-state and transient photoconductivity with photoinduced absorption measurements has allowed us to investigate the charge carrier photogeneration and charge transport mechanisms in pristine PCPDTBT and PCPDTBT:PCBM interpenetrating networks, and to compare them to the P3HT and P3HT:PCBM model systems. The picture of the photophysics of PCPDTBT:PCBM emerging from these studies is very similar to that of P3HT:PCBM blends. We discuss the potential of PCPDTBT as a new material for high efficiency polymer solar cells.