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Promising future for new solar cells

Published: 8 February 2016

Next-generation solar cells made of zinc oxide or titanium oxide are cheaper and more environmentally friendly; their components are being used in skin creams and paint. The new findings are published in Nature's Scientific Reports.

– It is very rewarding that our research has attracted international interest. Thanks to our new lab, we can now begin producing experimental research on a high level, says Alberto Vomiero, Chair Professor in Experimental Physics and Isabella Concina, VINNMER Marie Curie Fellow at Luleå University of Technology.

Cheaper and more environmentally friendly materials

The article, published in the highly ranked journal Scientific Reports, describes how new nanostructured materials are applied in a particular type of next-generation solar cells, called dye-sensitized solar cells.

– Compared with ordinary solar cells, that for example are based on crystalline silicon, these materials are cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and do not use precious metals. The main part of the cell is composed of zinc oxide or titanium oxide, the same material found in skin cream for children or in the white dye on the kitchen wall, says Alberto Vomiero.

The main conclusion of the study is that the production of this new type of solar cell use more environmentally friendly materials that have sufficient performance. They are also cheaper to produce.

– The use of zinc oxide makes it possible to manufacture the cells near room temperature, which reduces energy consumption. The material is also less expensive in itself and does not require technically sophisticated processes to manufacture. However, more research is needed to improve the light absorption and energy conversion efficiency of these solar cells, but the results are very encouraging.

Colored solar cells provide new opportunities

Another interesting advantage of the novel solar cells is that they are colored, and could be integrated into buildings and interiors. According to Alberto Vomiero and Isabella Concina, that is something that would be appreciated by architects and interior designers.

– Already, these types of solar cells are on their way to the market. However, the technology is not yet mature to replace current solar cells that are used on buildings or in solar installations. They fit well, however, for use indoors or in portable electronics as well as on devices that have low power consumption, such as sensors.

That the physicists’ research on the new solar cells has great potential is confirmed by a recent invitation to write a front-page story in the Wiley paper Small (see picture). Moreover, the researchers have published another article, within the same topic, in Scientific Reports in September 2015.