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3 Environmentally Harmful Industries, and how Printed Organic Solar Cells are Making Them More Sustainable


In the last several decades, we have seen the effects of climate change. During the industrial revolution is when we first started to really see the impact that human activities are having on the planet, with the burning of coal and other fossil fuels to create energy and power. From this moment on, human activities continued to heat the planet at an increasing rate. For example, it was found that between the years of 1997 and 2015, the ocean absorbed the same amount of heat as it had in the previous 130 years!

Much like the industrial revolution, the majority of the pollution which is emitted into the air today is due to various industries. Finding ways to make industries which are heavy polluters more sustainable is essential in the fight against climate change. Through printed electronics technologies (like organic solar cells), we can begin to move away from some of these harmful practices, to create a more sustainable future. Below are 3 types of industries which are known to be heavy polluters, and examples of how organic photovoltaics (OPV) are creating change in these areas:

Energy Industry

As the example given above, the industrial revolution kickstarted the use of fossil fuels to create energy and power, a source of power which we still rely on heavily today. Although we are trying to move away from using these power sources through the adoption of cleaner technologies such as solar or wind, there is still progress to be made in this area. One way in which we can further the adoption of these clean technologies and try to eliminate fossil fuels is through the use of organic semiconductors. Using organic semiconductors, we can formulate inks which can be then printed into thin, flexible solar cells. These types of solar cells can be used in a variety of industries and have shown exceptional results for indoor lighting applications. This makes them very versatile, and they can offer competitive performance in varied applications such as building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) and for powering devices in the internet of things (IOT). Not only can these materials be used in a variety of industries, they also have the ability to be printed at a rapid pace, making them easily scalable. The fastest roll-to-roll coating  equipment can run at over 1000 m²/ min, this means that in 10 minutes we can print enough solar cells to cover a football field!

Transportation Industry

Around 25% of global CO2 emissions are generated from land, air, rail and marine transportation; land transportation being the highest polluter of them all. One of the ways we have been combatting this is through the development and adoption of electric vehicles. The main challenge when it comes to electric vehicles is, again, the power source. Battery technology is improving more and more, allowing electric vehicles to travel longer distances between charges. An interesting and novel way to help power EV’s could be through the use of organic photovoltaics. Among the promises are added range, fewer charging sessions, and a reduced carbon impact. Not only that, but OPV has the highest power-to-weight ratio, making it ideal for transportation applications. The image below from Oninn is an example of how OPV can be used as a power source for buses. This has the potential to be a largely disruptive technology to the automotive industry, with the ability to move into all other areas of the transportation industry as well. With the improvement of battery life and charging power, EV’s will continue to become more widely adopted, decreasing the demand for fossil fuels as the main power source for land transportation.

Technology Industry

As we know, the consumer electronics industry is massive. With the number of devices currently online and the rate in which new devices continue to come online, we need to find a sustainable way to power these devices, and to dispose of them. Batteries are currently the main source of power for electronic devices in IOT. At their end of life, large amounts of used electronics and spent batteries are not properly recycled and end up in landfills. With the large amount of electronics being disposed of, the leaching of harmful chemicals such as cobalt, copper, nickel, and other substances pose environmental risks and are hazardous to our health. A more sustainable alternative to powering these electronics is to use printed organic solar cells. Not only is it a cleaner solution to powering electronics, it is also a cleaner solution for the disposal of electronics. Organic semiconductors can be recycled at their end of life in a similar way to how we recycle plastic, which can have an important impact in helping to combat our global e-waste problem.

We still have a long way to go in the fight against climate change, but if we continue to adopt clean technologies, we continue to make steps forward. And, the use of printed electronics such as OPV is one step forward towards a more sustainable future.