Making solar cells more sustainable

Rooftop domestic solar panels. Stock image. Photo: Carl Attard / pexels.

Flinders researchers are part of a global push to create more sustainable and efficient solar cells made from semiconducting plastics, which can be lightweight, flexible and easy to manufacture.

Led by Monash University, the development and possible commercialisation of all-polymer (organic) solar cells is one of several new solar photovoltaic (PV) research projects funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

Under the $840,000 ARENA grant, Flinders Molecular Science and Technology researcher Professor Mats Andersson, from the Centre for NanoScale Science and Technology, says Flinders College of Science and Engineering researchers will focus on synthesising the new all-polymer solar PV materials to make ‘larger’ (> 1 sq cm) solar cells.

Professor Andersson says organic photovoltaic solar cells aim to provide a more sustainable, low cost energy-production photovoltaic solution.

In keeping with the research, Professor Andersson’s laboratory is also looking into printing polymer solar cells on flexible plastic substrates with a special emphasis on using environmentally friendly fabrication processes.

The development of the semiconducting plastics, as well as super-thin solar cells from perovskite compounds (another recent $744,661 ARENA grant), aim to increase the potential real-world applications of solar cells and accelerate commercial development of these new solar materials.

ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht  says Australian innovation has already been incorporated in silicon solar panels, with further technological and commercialisation of solar PV R&D making solar competitive with wind and other energy sources.

“Together with contributions from industry partners and leading institutions from Asia, Europe and the United States, total value of the latest round of projects will exceed $100 million,” Mr Frischknecht says.

“This research into new innovation of solar PV cells and modules will enhance Australia’s position as world leaders in solar PV R&D and address Australian-specific conditions.”

The third round of ARENA R&D grants, involving $29.2 million in early-stage research funding, will help to reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of solar PV – from creating solar cells from new materials such as organic photovoltaics and perovskites, to making semi-transparent, high-efficiency solar cells for integrating into windows.

Most of the 20 new projects will focus on silicon, which is what most solar panels are made from. However new materials have the potential to lower the cost of manufacture, be more sustainable, or printable.

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