Researching Cheaper Thin Film Solar Cells


A team of Northumbria University researchers have partnered with a European consortium to investigate a new thin film photovoltaic technology made from cheaper and more abundant raw materials.
“More solar energy falls on the earth’s surface in one hour than the entire global population uses in a year,” says team leader Dr Ian Forbes. 
“It is important that we increase our capabilities of using the sun as an energy source. In order to do this, research is needed to find the best performing thin film technology that is based on sustainable materials and is capable of being cheaply manufactured, bringing down the price of photovoltaic energy.” 
The work centres on the development of thin-film solar cells based on kesterite: a copper-zinc-tin-sulphide (CZTS) crystal structure, which displays the same direct bandgap and high optical absorption as conventional thin-film technology – but without requiring expensive and rare-Earth elements used in current CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenide) cells, such as indium.
Researcher Pepe Márquez says CZTS cells have huge potential for converting the power of the sun into energy.
“This new kesterite-based technology has great potential in terms of cost effectiveness for the photovoltaic market. We are working with incredibly thin technology – 30 times thinner than a single strand of hair – using a few milligrams of copper, zinc and tin to make the panels cheap and capable of being mass produced.” 
The University is the only UK member of the €3.7 million KESTCELLS consortium; made up of key European universities, research institutions and companies, which aims to create an international network for the training of researchers in advanced thin-film solar technologies. The project seeks a renewable energy future where solar power is cost-competitive with fossil fuels.
Forbes and fellow colleagues presented their work on keterite materials on September 11 at the British Science Festivel, under the title, “A Brilliant Future: how sunlight will wave goodbye to our fossilised past.”