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  • Boosting PV in the EU
Jul 2012
DÜBENDORF, Switzerland, July 16, 2012 — The Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) has launched a €10 million (about $12.2 million) European Union-funded project to develop affordable, more efficient solar cells.

Thin-film solar cell technologies have the potential to offer higher material utilization and lower module costs than traditional wafer-based silicon solar cells because they use light-absorbing materials that are about 100 times thinner than silicon wafers.

Photovoltaics at Empa. (Image: Empa)

Thin-film technologies based on the substance class of chalcogenides, such as copper indium gallium (di)selenide, deliver the highest efficiencies and are already in mass production. However, current production methods rely on vacuum-based deposition processes that are difficult to control over large surfaces and require expensive equipment, counteracting the potential reduction of material costs inherent to thin-film technologies.

To overcome this challenge, the EU-funded international Scalenano project (“Development and scale-up of nanostructure-based materials and processes for low-cost, high-efficiency chalcogenide-based photovoltaics”) will develop alternative, vacuum-free processes based on the electrodeposition of nanostructured precursors. The project, which runs until mid-2015, will also explore and develop alternative processes with high throughput and process rates, along with their extension to the next generation of kesterite absorbers that use only cheap, abundant elements.

Empa’s Thin Films and Photovoltaics lab will contribute to the project by investigating solution- and nanoparticle-based deposition of kesterite absorbers, front electrical contacts of transparent conducting oxides and supplying reference solar cells prepared by vacuum-based techniques.

Results from the project could find applications in smart windows and batteries, said project leader Yaroslav Romanyuk.

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The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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