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Posted: September 8, 2009

Australian university gets $2m funding for next-generation solar cell research

(Nanowerk News) University of Queensland researchers have received almost $2 million from the Queensland Government to lead an international alliance working on the next generation of solar cells.
The researchers, Professor Paul Burn and Associate Professor Paul Meredith from the Centre for Organic Photonics & Electronics, focus on solar cells that have the potential for wide commercial deployment – they're plastic, portable and low-cost.
“Solar cells are widely viewed as an important pillar of the future renewable energy technology mix,” Professor Burn said.
“The objective of this research alliance is to develop innovative technologies for the next generation of solar cells, which will be based on inexpensive and environmentally friendly plastic materials.”
Associate Professor Meredith said presently the best commercially available solar cells were based on silicon and had efficiencies of about 10-20 percent.
“As a result of the cost and complexity of processing silicon, it takes five to 10 years electricity generation to pay off the initial outlay; a fact that hinders universal up-take, especially for households, in the current economic framework,” he said.
Associate Professor Meredith said technology development was focussed on developing new, cheaper, and shorter payback cells – of which organic, or plastic, solar cells were the best.
“Organic solar cell materials have similar properties to silicon but can be manufactured cheaply over large areas, giving the opportunity to form products such as roof sheeting and window panels,” he said.
“In contrast to the heavy and rigid silicon cells, the light and flexible characteristics of organic solar cells open up new markets previously inaccessible to traditional technologies.”
Treasurer and Minister for Employment and Economic Development Andrew Fraser today announced the funding, which is from the National and International Research Alliances Program.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Greenfield welcomed the State Government support for a diversified approach to renewable energy research and development.
“I congratulate the Government for enhancing Queensland and Australia's prospects of becoming leaders in solar technology, and backing the highly innovative work of Paul Burn and Paul Meredith,” Professor Greenfield said.
“This program has the added potential of expanding Queensland's high-tech industry base, giving rise to jobs and new skills.”
The grant supports the UQ-led Organic Solar Cell Alliance (OSCA), which includes the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the USA, James Cook University, CSIRO, the Australian Research Council's Centre for Antimatter-Matter Studies, and Cairns company SolarSells.
It will have nodes in Australia and the USA.
“Ensuring clean energy supplies for the future and arresting global warming are our generation's responsibilities,” Professor Burn said.
“It is a scientific fact that mankind's demand for fossil fuels is an important factor in the dramatic changes we are currently witnessing in our climate. Renewable energy technologies are key to solving this problem.”
The two Pauls are world leaders in organic photonics and electronics, and have both co-founded and generated technologies for high-tech start-up companies in solar energy and optoelectronics.
Source: University of Queensland
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