UK's John Anthony Talks Organic Solar Cells and Transistors
John Anthony, the John C. Hubbard Professor of Chemistry, is a pioneer in organic materials—things that are made from carbon instead of silicon. With grants from the U.S. Navy, NSF, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, as well a number of industrial sponsors, Anthony’s research focuses on organic solar cells (for low-cost generation of electricity), organic thin-film transistors (for flexible flat-panel displays), and organic light-emitting diodes (for high-efficiency lighting). “Carbon is a lot more versatile than silicon. Silicon is a rock. You are very limited in how you can shape it. Plastics are carbon, whether you’re talking saran wrap or a Kevlar, bulletproof vest. You have a lot more choices in shape.” Carbon is also cheaper because it takes less energy to produce materials.
“We’re working on bulk hetero-junction organic photovoltaics. Those big words describe a process that’s ridiculously simple. You take a sheet of plastic, you slather on our organic ink solution, and as the solvent evaporates, the materials just spontaneously organize into a working solar cell. You put a set of electrodes on top and you can convert sunlight into electricity.” Anthony’s research team is also exploring passing a transparent sheet of plastic through an ink-jet printer, loaded with his proprietary ink, to make lightweight, flexible solar cells. This discovery might revive the print industry. Full-color, high-resolution printing plants could convert to solar cell production, once Anthony’s team identifies the ideal, low-cost material set.
Co-founded by Anthony and CEO John Beran in 2005 and based in Louisville, Anthony’s company Outrider Technologies develops organic semiconductors for the electronics industry. The company has licenses with global technology giant 3M, and Outrider has paid UK nearly $850,000 in royalties since 2007 from license agreements for compounds developed by Anthony. He explains, "We’ve been able to put transistors, integrated circuits, on saran wrap. We actually just submitted this for publication to one of the Nature journals. So we know we can do the basic circuitry and that it’s stable, it doesn’t die when you crumple it up and fold it up and stuff it in your pocket. The next question is, can we get the performance out of it? That is where a good-sized effort of my research group is now turning its attention."
Since his research team's move to the new laboratory building at the UK Center for Applied Energy Research, Anthony has doubled his number of active research grants.