Copper Nanowires May Offer Solar Cost Solution

Polymer photovoltaic cell making use of transparent conducting polymers.

Polymer photovoltaic cell making use of transparent conducting polymers.

Research by chemists at Duke University may hold key to lowering cost of photovoltaic cells in the form of copper nanowires. Copper atoms are organized to form long, thin nanowires that can be used to create a transparent conductive film which is then coated over plastic or glass. While conductive transparent films are nothing new in the electronics sector this new manufacturing process is considerably less expensive.

Currently most electronic screens use a film made from Indium Tin Oxide (ITO). However these films require vapor deposition which is extremely slow, produces a film that can break easily, and uses an expensive rare Earth element (Indium). Similar to the newly proposed Copper Nanowires are Silver Nanowires which results in quicker manufacturing and a more durable product. However Silver has the same cost drawbacks as Indium.

Duke chemist Ben Wiley who spearheaded the research co-founded a company, NanoForge Corp, in 2010 to begin manufacturing these new copper nanowires. This year NanoForge was awarded a $45,000 North Carolina IDEA grant and has begun offering the technology to electronics manufacturers. Within the next few years this new, inexpensive, flexible copper film might be part of the solution to lowering the cost of photovoltaics.



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