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13 February 2014

EPSRC awards £2m for PVTEAM project on Earth-abundant materials

A research project led by the University of Bristol that aims to develop new active materials for photovoltaic solar cells based on Earth-abundant and low-cost elements has been awarded £2m funding by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Led by professor David Fermin of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, the study ‘Photovoltaic Technology based on Earth Abundant Materials’ (PVTEAM) is one of four research projects to be awarded a total of £10.3m by the EPSRC. Each aims to find safer, more sustainable alternatives to many of the raw materials used by manufacturing industries.

The Bristol-led project aims to replace key elements – such as gallium, indium, cadmium and tellurium – used in solar cell manufacturing, while also implementing processes compatible with large-scale manufacturing. As these elements have low abundance, high costs and high toxicity, finding alternatives to them represents an extraordinary opportunity, it is reckoned.

“The aim of this program is to lay the foundations of sustainable thin-film photovoltaic technology based on Earth-abundant materials and scalable manufacturing processes,” Fermin says. “This will be achieved by developing processes and production technologies for materials and material systems to a level they can be taken up by manufacturing industries,” he adds.

“PVTEAM will specify a carefully selected range of chemical compounds (chalcogenides and oxides) as substitutes to proven commercial materials,” Fermin continues. “Using a multi-level screening approach, we will incorporate the best performing candidates into established solar cell architectures.”

The consortium involves five universities (Bristol, Bath, Northumbria, Swansea and Loughborough) with state-of-the-art infrastructure for material development and characterization as well as for device fabrication, testing and integration into photovoltaic modules.

Material processing will be based on facilities available at the Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings (SPECIFIC, an academic and industrial consortium led by Swansea University, with Tata Steel as the main industrial partner, funded by EPSRC, the UK’s Technology Strategy Board and the Welsh Government). SPECIFIC will be in charge of designing scale-up strategies and preparing techno-economic assessment.

The PVTEAM industrial partners (Tata Steel, Pilkington NSG and Johnson Matthey) have a global footprint in materials for the construction, coating and chemical industries.

The consortium also includes the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) M-Solve and Semimetrics, which will provide means for the exploitation of new PVTEAM technologies in module fabrication and metrology.

See related items:

IBM sets efficiency record for thin-film PV using earth-abundant materials

Tags: Thin-film PV

Visit: www.epsrc.ac.uk

Visit: www.bristol.ac.uk/chemistry

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