Melbourne PhD Student Awarded For Solar Cell Innovation

A PhD student from the University of Melbourne has been recognised as a leading innovator in the field of renewable energy for his work on cutting the cost of manufacturing thin film solar cells.
In the same week as researchers from the USA unveiled a method of using inkjet printer technology to fabricate thin film CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) solar cells; Brandon MacDonald, along with colleagues from University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute and the CSIRO, released details of their invention that also utilises a dye system to print tiny, semiconducting nanocrystals directly onto a variety of surfaces – and only using a fraction of the materials of conventional solar cells.
“The problem with traditional solar cells,” MacDonald says, “is that making them requires many complex and energy intensive steps. Using nanocrystal inks, they can be manufactured in a continuous manner, which increases production rate and should make the cells much cheaper to produce.”
MacDonald and his team found that by spraying a dye containing cadmium telluride (Cd-Te) nanocrystals – called quantum dots – onto flexible plastic and metal foil surfaces, they were transformed into solar cells. Multiple coats of the dye filled in any imperfections, resulting in a thin film Cd-Te solar cell which used just one tenth as much material as a standard thin film cell. 
With a steady efficiency rate of about 12.5 percent, Cd-Te is the first semiconducting material to rival silicon for low-cost solar installations; however, the use of cadmium in solar panels is still a controversial issue due to environmental and health concerns.
For his work, MacDonald has received the 2010/11 DuPont Young Innovator’s Award, which honours breakthroughs in sustainable science and technology. Originally from Canada, Brandon completed his Bachelor’’s Degree in Chemistry at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver then moved to Melbourne to undertake his PhD studies.