Essentially all methods of energy production—e.g., fracking, damming, drilling, nuclear fission, and excavation of rare elements for photovoltaics—are associated with some degree of environmental degradation. Organic solar cells (OSCs) are regarded as low-cost and potentially environmentally benign sources of power. π-Conjugated (semiconducting) polymers—the components of OSCs responsible for absorbing light and transporting charge—are not typically synthesized in laboratories in ways that are amenable to manufacturing with low environmental impact. This article discusses strategies for producing conjugated polymers using green chemistry. That is, reaction methodology with low energy intensity, with minimal production of toxic waste, and at low cost. This article briefly reviews the major findings in the literature on the energy intensity and carbon emissions associated with fabricating OSCs on the laboratory scale, and identifies several strategies and materials invented by the community to lower the cost and environmental impact of the components of the devices. The principles of green chemistry, applied to the synthesis of conjugated polymers, are identified as important guidelines for the multi-tonne manufacturing of these materials. A general theme in both green chemistry and process research is that low cost can be correlated to environmental benignity when the costs of disposing wastes are high. This Perspective then highlights five synthetic strategies that satisfy several of the criteria of green chemistry: (1) polymerization using metal-mediated cross-coupling reactions that reduce or eliminate stoichiometric organotin waste; (2) the use of heterogeneously catalyzed polymerizations; (3) polymerization involving activation of C–H bonds; (4) use of biofeedstock-derived starting materials; and (5) polycondensation reactions that evolve water as a byproduct.
This article is Open Access
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