29 June 2020

Groundbreaking study by Sheffield scientists could help government achieve UK’s net-zero carbon target

Professor Graham Leggett is leading a £7.25 million project to create new sustainable carbon-based materials for use in technologies that use light, including solar energy capture, photocatalysis, medical sensors and optical communications.

Solar panels

Scientists from the University of Sheffield have been awarded funding to create new carbon-based materials that could improve light technologies including solar energy capture and medical sensors.

The funding, awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will help researchers develop ‘Molecular Photonic Breadboards’, organic molecular materials that it is hoped will enable highly efficient capture and transport of light energy.

There has long been interest in using carbon molecular materials in these optoelectronic devices because they can be produced in low-energy processes from abundant, inexpensive materials. However, a fundamental barrier has been poor control over the transport of light energy in these materials.

Solar cells are powered by silicon semiconductors absorbing sunlight and converting that sunlight into electricity. For organic materials to match the efficiency of silicon, scientists need to control the behaviour of excitons, formed when light is absorbed by molecules, much more effectively.

The University of Sheffield is leading a £7.25 million project which aims to solve this problem. If successful the project will drive down the cost and improve the performance of organic materials, transforming approaches to solar energy production and consumer electronics, and helping to meet the government’s target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Professor Graham Leggett, Head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sheffield and project lead, said: “Control of excitons is essential for many new and emerging technologies identified in the government's Industrial Strategy as being vital to the economic success of the UK, including solar energy capture, photocatalysis, quantum technologies, and the design of diagnostic devices for personalised medicine.

“An unsolved grand challenge has been to develop design rules for the long-range transport of excitons. Our goal is to solve this grand challenge.”

Dr Jenny Clark and Professors Steve Armes, Julia Weinstein, Nick Williams and Neil Hunter from the Faculty of Science are also working on the project along with Dr Dan Lambert from the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health and researchers at the University of Bristol and Exeter.

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