Quest for cheaper solar energy

Wednesday, 30 January, 2008

Scientists at Durham University are embarking on what claims to be one of the UK’s largest research projects into solar energy.

The project will focus on making the cells which are used in creating solar panels from sustainable and affordable materials.

Eight UK universities, led by Durham, are involved including Bangor, Bath, Cranfield, Imperial, Edinburgh and Southampton, which will work with industrial partners towards a medium- to long-term goal to make solar energy more competitive and sustainable, particularly in light of the recent rise in fossil fuel prices.

At present, solar cells are made from very expensive materials and the team will attempt to make a thinner solar semiconductor. Fifty tonnes of material per gigawatt of power could be saved if they succeed.

Researchers will also use nanotechnology and dyes on ultra-thin silicon to capture increased amounts of energy from the sun’s rays.

“With the rapid increase in fossil fuel prices and the recent government announcement about investment in nuclear power it is even more important that we look at long-term future energy generation from solar power,” lead investigator Prof Ken Durose, from the Department of Physics at Durham University, said.

“At present you would need tens of tonnes of very rare and expensive materials for large-scale production of solar cells to produce sizeable amounts of power.

“Some of the materials currently used may not be sustainable in 20 years’ time, which is why we have to conduct research into alternative materials that are cheaper to buy and more sustainable.

“We are also leading the way in making ultra-thin solar cells that need less material.”

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