A collaboration between universities across England and Wales is working on the next generation of solar cell technology, with aims to create PV cells which are cheaper, safer and suitable for large-scale manufacture.
The team, working under the banner of Photovoltaic Technology based on Earth Abundant Materials (PVTEAM) comprises of researchers from the universities of Bristol, Bath, Northumbria, Loughborough and Swansea, are working on a new form of PV technology that is thinner and lighter by using less materials, which keeps manufacturing costs down and reduces its environmental impact.
Current solar panels contain materials which are both rare and toxic, such as cadmium and gallium. These make it very difficult to keep manufacturing costs low, and create environmental risks. The new solar cells in development are designed to be x30 thinner than a strand of human hair, whilst consisting of just a few milligrams of copper, tin and zinc.
The research is part of a £2m collaborative project funded by the Engineering and Physical Research Council. The team also have backing from Tata Steel, Johnson Matthey and NSG Holding.
Dr Trystan Watson, one of the team leaders from Swansea University explained how the new solar cells are designed to tackle two of the key problems that current solar cells pose: “Currently the raw materials that produce solar cells are costly, toxic and scarce, and so we aim to replace those elements with new active materials for photovoltaic solar cells based on abundant and cost effective elements that will be safer and environmentally sustainable. The team will also look at ways to develop and implement processes compatible with large-scale manufacturing in the UK.”
The importance placed on larger-scale manufacturing of solar cells in the UK is significant. The UK’s solar potential is huge, with billions of square metres or roofs and walls capable of housing solar panels, turning any building into a solar power station. But currently, high manufacturing costs are keeping solar panels from being produced on a large enough scale for the country to fully benefit. If the PVTEAM succeed in creating a solar panel which is cost effective, quick to build and crucially, as efficient as current PV panels, the UK will be greatly assisted in meeting its renewable energy targets.
Image sourced: Jørgen Schybergtagsnext generationpv cellssolar cellssolar panels