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Posted: March 13, 2009

EU project to develop nanomaterials for more efficient solar cells

(Nanowerk News) A new EU-funded project is turning to nanotechnology in a bid to dramatically ramp up the efficiency of solar cells. Called ROD-SOL ('All-inorganic nano-rod based thin-film solar cells on glass'), the three-year project has a budget of EUR 4 million, EUR 2.9 million of which will come from the 'Nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies' (NMP) Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
The aim of the project is to develop new, more cost-effective nanomaterials for solar cells. In a time of rising energy prices, the race is on to develop new, cheaper ways of exploiting renewable energy sources. 'Photovoltaics is an important pillar of this effort, as solar energy is available in almost unlimited amounts,' commented project coordinator Dr Silke Christensen of the Institute of Photonic Technology (IPHT) in Germany.
The solar cells currently in use have an efficiency of around 18%. However, producing these cells requires a lot of raw materials and is an extremely energy-intensive process. In the future, thin film solar cells are expected to dominate the market, as their production costs are much lower. But the efficiency of these new cells, at around 10%, is rather low.
The ROD-SOL project aims to up the efficiency of these thin film solar cells by developing and optimising the synthesis of silicon nanorods on cheaper substrates such as glass or metal foils. The silicon nanorods are effectively tiny silicon columns whose diameter is measured in nanometres.
According to the project partners, these minute structures are ideal for trapping light energy so that it can be transformed into electricity. A major challenge for the researchers will be determining the optimal diameter of these nanorods, as the diameter influences the efficiency of the structures. The novel materials and processes developed in the project will be tested and implemented by the companies involved in ROD-SOL.
In total, the project counts seven research organisation partners, based in Austria, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland and the USA, and four industrial partners from Germany, Slovenia and Finland.
'The urgency to find sustainable new ways to generate energy is obvious to us all. Picosun is extremely proud to be one of only four industrial partners in this enormously important project,' said Juhana Kostamo, Managing Director of Finnish company Picosun. 'Thin films are going to be the key for success in this project. Picosun focuses exclusively on ALD [Atomic Layer Deposition] and ALD is key to advanced thin films.'
Source: Cordis