Cash boost for nanotechnology

Surrey University’s Advanced Technology Institute has received a €1m (£0.9m) grant from energy giant E.ON to help commercialise better-quality and more cost-effective solar cells.


Surrey University’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) has received a €1m (£0.9m) grant from energy giant E.ON to help commercialise better-quality and more cost-effective solar cells.

The funding has been provided as part of the company’s ‘Application of Nanotechnology in the Energy Business’ scheme, which aims to advance innovative applications of nanotechnology in energy production, conversion and storage. The three-year project, led by ATI director Prof Ravi Silva, will build on the institute’s expertise in nanotechnology to further develop a model for the design and fabrication of organic-inorganic hybrid solar cells.

About 90 per cent of solar cells used are silicon-based. While these provide relatively good power conversion efficiency, the high cost of production makes it difficult to manufacture them for sale.

An alternative has been to use solar technologies based on organic materials that are cheaper to produce, but these have an energy conversion efficiency of four to five per cent. Prof Silva and his team aim to develop a low-cost solution to enhance the performance of organic-based solar cells to about 10 per cent by incorporating inorganic carbon nanotubes into the cell structure.

He said: ‘The aim is to commercialise this technology for the wider market. If we can reduce the cost, solar technology will no longer be a specialist item and can be used to supplement every-day energy requirements within the home and business on a cost-competitive basis.’

The university already holds a number of patents in developing hybrid systems for practical applications. The grant will help it develop prototypes for industry.

Ellie Zolfagharifard