British academics receive €2.4 million grant for PV cell research

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Researchers at Bristol University, U.K. have been granted €2.4 million by the country’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to lead a consortium focused on replacing some of the key elements used in the manufacture of solar PV cells with more low cost, low toxicity alternatives.

As part of a €15 million push by the EPSRC to help fund research into safer and more sustainable alternatives to the raw materials commonly used in industry, the PVTEAM study (Photovoltaics Technology based on Earth Abundant Materials) will be led by Professor David Fermin of Bristol University’s School of Chemistry, and joined by leading researchers at four other leading British universities, including Loughborough, Bath, Swansea and Northumbria.

The research program intends to develop alternatives to gallium, indium, cadmium and tellurium – elements commonly used in the production of PV cells that are all either expensive to acquire, have high levels or toxicity or are increasingly rare.

"The aim of this program is to lay the foundations of sustainable thin-film PV technology based on earth-abundant materials and scalable manufacturing processes," said Professor Fermin. "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.

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

Testing and processing of materials will take place at the Sustainable Product Engineering Centre, where scale-up strategies and techno-economic assessments of promising alternatives will also be designed and managed.

Commercial and industrial partners joining the PVTEAM include Tata Steel, Pilkington NSG, Johnson Matthey, M-Solve and Semimetrics.