Groovy new solar technology aims to be the future of renewable energy

  • New solar cell design has capability to reduce costs of solar cell manufacture
  • Innovative creation could also make solar power more efficient

Solar cell

An innovative new solar-cell design which has the capability to drive down costs of solar cell manufacture, has been created by scientists at the University of Sheffield and energy technology company Power Roll.

In a study published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, collaborating researchers from the University of Sheffield and Power Roll have demonstrated how a unique architecture based on a surface embossed with micro-grooves could also make solar power more efficient.

Researchers showed that by coating opposing walls of micro-grooves with different electrical contacts, and then filling the groove with a solution-processable semiconductor, it was possible to create a new type of back contacted solar cell.

The innovative 3D design removes many of the manufacturing process steps required by existing PV modules and allows new materials to be used that would not usually be appropriate in regular solar cells.

Professor David Lidzey, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Sheffield, who has led on the collaboration with Power Roll, said: “There is global interest in using solar cells to generate low carbon, green electricity. The design of the back contacted solar module is both innovative and elegant, and can potentially reduce optical losses within the device.’’

Power Roll Ltd predicts that solar modules produced using this design will weigh only a fraction of an equivalent-power conventional solar module which could benefit less developed and off grid areas of the world where it is not viable to transport heavy solar panels as well as a wide range of other applications.

Researchers said other benefits of Power Roll’s design include removal of expensive transparent conductive oxides, the use of simple and low cost electrical interconnections and the ability to tune electrical output to match user requirements.

Dr Trevor McArdle, Senior Research Scientist at Power Roll said: “Over the last 40 years, the majority of solar cells have been based on a conventional flat structure, in which layers of different materials are deposited one upon another to create the solar cell. However, we have developed a radically different architecture to make solar cells using a surface patterned by micro-grooves that individually are a fraction of the width of a human hair.”

Professor Lidzey, added: “The devices we have demonstrated with Power Roll, have a promising efficiency, whereby seven per cent of sunlight power falling onto a single photovoltaic micro-groove device is directly converted to electrical power, this is already around a third of what the best performing but expensive solar cells produce today.”

Building on the work published in this paper, the University of Sheffield and Power Roll have successfully produced working mini-module demonstrators. Power Roll is now focusing on scaling up the technology ready for commercialisation.

Neil Spann, CEO of Power Roll, said: “We believe that our patented architecture is a game changer. The market opportunities for our solar PV product are significant, including off-grid solutions, commercial and domestic systems, powering the internet of things, portable power generation and military applications. This technology will deliver significant economic and social benefits to end users.”

Additional information

The University of Sheffield - MSc Solar Cell Technology course
The University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy offers a one-year masters course designed to train physical science and engineering graduates to develop new photovoltaic devices and test their effectiveness as a global energy resource. The course is based on more than 20 years of solar research at the University of Sheffield, and spans fundamental materials science and real-world PV system development.
Laboratory training in materials science will teach you how to characterise and test solar cell materials, leading to the fabrication and measurement of photovoltaic devices. You will learn how to analyse and assess the performance of photovoltaic systems by working with the team behind Sheffield Solar – they run the UK's largest PV database and our rooftop solar testbed facility. An expert from one of these areas will work with you on a major research project, and with our dedicated enterprise training and links with industry, you'll become equipped for a range of roles in a more sustainable future.

The University of Sheffield
With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.
A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.
Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.
Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.
Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

Power Roll Ltd
Power Roll is a North East technology company working to develop disruptive energy generation and storage products. Its unique patented and award winning platform technology facilitates lightweight and ultra-low-cost solar photovoltaic (“PV”) and energy storage products.
For more information visit: https://bit.ly/2Fpe3eo
www.powerroll.solar

Contact:

For further information please contact:
Clare Parkin
Media Relations Officer
0114 222 9851/2221047
clare.parkin@sheffield.ac.uk/mediateam@sheffield.ac.uk