Just came back from Frankfurt, tired from the 10 hour intercontinental flight, but I’m ready to sum up my seven days experience in Germany at the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference (EUPVSEC). The conference closed on Friday, 28th September, after five days of constant reports of research frontiers in all solar energy related fields. Researchers and businessmen from all over the world came to report, summarize, and discuss new findings, innovative ideas, and developments in the field. As a graduate student just beginning to explore this burgeoning business there was much to learn.

As part of Project 2 of the NSERC Photovoltaic Innovation Network (www.pvinnovation.ca), my research aims at improving the lifetime of organic photovoltaics (OPV) while maintaining moderate power conversion efficiency. So naturally I was interested more in the OPV sessions than other topics. It seemed that almost all OPV-related talks were given by industrial researchers and people from companies, a good sign that OPV is no longer solely an academic research interest. There is a strong debate as to whether OPV will ever become commercialized on a large scale but I firmly believe that OPV has a bright future. I think the presentations at the OPV session have proved I am right. Three years ago, people would get excited if they had achieved efficiencies around 6% with OPVs, but now companies present over 10% efficiency of single junction cells with alleged 10 years lifetime. Solliance (http://www.solliance.eu/) demonstrated transparent OPV glass at the conference and their exhibition booth, which is an example of the versatility of organic photovoltaics.

In the future, even if OPVs cannot compete with inorganic solar cells in terms of efficiency, they can still find roles in small scale energy productions such as household power supply or photovoltaic chargers for portable electronic devices. However, this is not the reason why companies are willing to invest their money on OPV. Their hope is that OPV will finally win over inorganic photovoltaics by the low price and ease of production. Several companies have proved the feasibility of roll-to-roll printing of organic photovoltaic films. With this technique, solar cells can be produced like printing newspapers. Professor Yang Yang from UCLA, one of the pioneer researchers in the OPV field, encouraged OPV people at his plenary talk by sharing his experiences on organic light emitting diode (OLED) developments. The pure research topic at the time of the early 90s has become real product available in stores now. Interestingly, the large screen at the airport terminal was repeatedly broadcasting LG’s commercial of their new OLED TV while I was waiting to board my flight. One may very well expect the same story happening to OPV ten years later.

On Friday, a fellow Network student and I went to check out the Max-Plank Institute for Polymer Research at Mainz (http://www.mpip-mainz.mpg.de//groups/muellen). One of my impressions about this institute is that all the equipment everything is in large scale. With such abundant facilities and funding, no wonder hundreds of high quality articles are being published each year in this three floor building, under the supervisions of only six directors.

Frankfurt is not only the financial capital but also a beautiful and historical city with tons of interesting places to explore. Somewhat more than in North America, I can strongly feel the history and culture while I was walking in the city. I was amazed by the size of the cathedrals, the number of museums, and the convenience of public transit system. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see the entire city within a week. If you plan to go to Frankfurt for pleasure, I highly recommend the Frankfurt Card. With this card, which costs you only 13.5 Euros for two days validity, you get public transit rides, half off on tickets to all city owned museums and it’s only eight Euros for a whole day bike rental. In all, I had a wonderful experience at the conference and in the city, thanks to the Network for offering me this opportunity; I wish my visa was valid for a longer period of time.

-(Ben) Chi Zhang (Chemistry MSc., Year 3 at Simon Fraser University)

See Ben’s Photojournal at: http://www.pvinnovation.ca/files/Photo_Journal_Ben_Zhang.pdf