British Universities Embark on Solar Power Research

Funded by The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the University of Manchester and Imperial College London plan to investigate a number of new solar cell designs over the next three-and-a-half years, in an attempt to produce a more efficient solar power system.

The consortium of researchers, led by professor Paul O’Brien from the University of Manchester’s School of Chemistry and physics professor Jenny Nelson of Imperial College also will investigate new designs that use intrinsically inexpensive materials and cheap fabrication methodologies, thereby lowering the cost of solar cells and making the technology more feasible as a primary source of energy.

“Alternatives to fossil-fuel-based electricity sources are needed urgently to reduce the environmental impact of electrical power generation and to secure our supply of electricity in the future. The widespread implementation of solar electricity requires a significant reduction in cost, and a successful outcome to this project has the potential to provide a step-change solar cell technology,” O’Brien said.

The research team aims to build demonstration hybrid solar cells with the long-term potential to be mass-produced and to achieve an energy-conversion efficiency approaching 10 percent. The cells will be made from both organic polymeric carbon-based materials and small particles of inorganic semiconductors. Most designs are expected to draw on nanotechnology, with researchers planning to use PbS nanorods—small cylinders of lead sulfide that are around 100 times smaller than a human hair.

If these research methods are successful, contractors could see an even more dramatic increase in solar power system installations.     EC

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