Durham University researchers are developing light-absorbing materials that could make future solar photovoltaic (PV) cells thinner and cheaper to manufacture.
Current thicker silicon-based cells contain iridium, which is rare and expensive. Durham’s four-year project involves experiments on a range of different materials that would be less expensive and more sustainable to use in the manufacturing of solar panels.
The research, funded by the EPSRC SUPERGEN initiative, focuses on developing thin-layer PV cells using materials such as copper indium diselenide and cadmium telluride.
The project is now entering a phase for the development of cheaper and more sustainable variants of these materials.
The Durham team is also working on manipulating the growth of the materials so they form a continuous structure which is essential for conducting the energy trapped by solar panels before it is turned into usable electricity. This will help improve the efficiency of the thin-layer PV cells.
The researchers hope that the development of more affordable thin-film PV cells could lead to a reduction in the cost of solar panels for the domestic market and an increase in the use of solar power.
To aid its research, the university has taken delivery of a £1.7m suite of high powered electron microscopes, funded by the Science Research Investment Fund, which have nanoscale resolution allowing scientists to see the effects that currently limit the performance of solar cells.
One of the microscopes is the first of its kind in the UK. ‘This instrument will put the North East right out in front. We are working on new ideas in renewable energy and this opens up tremendous opportunities in research,’ said Professor Ken Durose, Director of the Durham Centre for Renewable Energy.