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Researchers at the UJI are undertaking the design, preparation and characterisation of low-cost materials for capturing solar energy

18 May 2009 Universitat Jaume I

Cost is one of the main disadvantages of the use of renewable energies. Through the thesis “Preparation and study of thin films for photovoltaic applications” presented at the Universitat Jaume I, Teodor Krassimirov is aiming to make the development of efficient solar panels easier and cheaper. In this thesis, he proposes the use of more economic synthesis methods using sulphur-based compounds (chalcopyrites) as an alternative to the ones used up until now. The research has aroused great interest, which has enabled Krassimirov to continue delving deeper into the use of these materials at one of the world’s most prestigious industrial research institutes, the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, near New York, with the help of a postdoctoral grant from IBM. In addition, some of the research results have been published in the most prestigious journals in the field of materials chemistry such as Chemistry of Materials.

Thin films for photovoltaic applications are obtained through expensive processes of synthesis that need to be optimised, says Purificación Escribano, chair of Inorganic Chemistry and co-director of the thesis together with senior lecturer Juan Carda. “We decided to propose a low-cost synthesis process for the preparation of films based on the structure of chalcopyrite as an alternative to silicon, which is a highly efficient material but costly to obtain”, she says. With the aim of proposing more suitable materials for the development of films to absorb light on solar panels, Krassimirov extended the studies carried out at the UJI with work in the German laboratory of the Hahn-Meitner Institute in Berlin and in the and in the Institute of Energy Conversion, University of Delaware, USA.

According to Escribano, the research has enabled us to “provide a material that is deposited like a film with applications in very efficient systems for storage of photovoltaic energy. A less expensive method has been proposed and more work will need to be done to optimise it but there is no doubt that an important step has been taken”. Chalcopyrite-based technologies are high performance and stable, and for this reason they are considered very promising for the production of large-scale photovoltaic modules at a lower cost, which will open a viable path for a photovoltaic industry capable of meeting global needs.

Moreover, according to the thesis, the possibility of using fine layers for photovoltaic modules “is very attractive due to the enormous savings of very expensive materials and the simplification of the manufacturing process. At the same time, the homogenous and elegant appearance of these modules, as well as the choice of shapes and designs, makes them very attractive for integration into architecture”.

The research tackles some of the technological and scientific hurdles in the development of solar energy, which is one of the renewable energies with the greatest potential. However, Escribano reminds us that the “cleanest energy is that which isn’t consumed and the best waste is that which doesn’t exist”. The thesis, which was unanimously awarded Excellent Cum Laude and the European Doctorate Label, is part of the work developed by the Solid State Chemistry group, led by Escribano, which is characterised by its commitment to the environment and to develop research “to achieve a cleaner and more respectful society. To this end as chemists we are working on research on materials synthesis”.

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