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 for higher material use 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. 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 that require expensive equipment, counteracting the potential reduction of material costs inherent to thin-film technologies. A new project from Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, will develop solar cells that are less costly and more efficient. Courtesy of Empa. 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 electrodeposition of nanostructured precursors. The project, which runs until mid-2015, also will explore and develop alternative processes with high throughput and process rates, along with their etension to the next generation of kesterite absorbers that use only cheap, abundant elements. Empa’s Laboratory for Thin Films and Photovoltaics will contribute to the project by investigating solution- and nanoparticle-based deposition of kesterite absorbers, and front electrical contacts of transparent conducting oxides, and by supplying reference solar cells prepared by vacuum-based techniques. Results from the project also could find applications in smart windows and batteries, said project leader Yaroslav Romanyuk.