In recent years, photovoltaic cell technology has grown extraordinarily as a sustainable source of energy, as a consequence of the increasing concern over the impact of fossil fuel-based energy on global warming and climate change. The different photovoltaic cells developed up to date can be classified into four main categories called generations (GEN), and the current market is mainly covered by the first two GEN. The 1GEN (mono or polycrystalline silicon cells and gallium arsenide) comprises well-known medium/low cost technologies that lead to moderate yields. The 2GEN (thin-film technologies) includes devices that have lower efficiency albeit are cheaper to manufacture. The 3GEN presents the use of novel materials, as well as a great variability of designs, and comprises expensive but very efficient cells. The 4GEN, also known as "inorganics-in-organics", combines the low cost/flexibility of polymer thin films with the stability of novel inorganic nanostructures (i.e., metal nanoparticles and metal oxides) with organic-based nanomaterials (i.e., carbon nanotubes, graphene and its derivatives), and are currently under investigation. The main goal of this review is to show the current state of art on photovoltaic cell technology in terms of the materials used for the manufacture, efficiency and production costs. A comprehensive comparative analysis of the four generations is performed, including the device architectures, their advantages and limitations. Special emphasis is placed on the 4GEN, where the diverse roles of the organic and nano-components are discussed. Finally, conclusions and future perspectives are summarized.
Keywords: carbon nanotubes; efficiency; generations; graphene; photovoltaics; polymers.