Research on future solar cells receives €2.5m funding

Professor Mircea Guina of TUT’s Optoelectronics Research Centre has been granted €2.5m in ERC funding.

Expected results of the research could make Finland one of the leading countries in solar energy expertise.

“At TUT, science produces technology, while technology provides the tools for scientific research,” Professor Mircea Guina (centre) notes. On the left Riku Isoaho and on the right Severi Mäkelä.

A new technology will be applied in solar cell development in the ‘Advanced III-V Materials and Processes Enabling Ultrahigh-efficiency (50%) Photovoltaics’ project, scheduled to begin at the end of the year. Today, the best performing solar panels are able to convert up to 30-40 per cent of the energy contained in sunrays, while the new cells could improve this number to over 50 per cent.

“Percentage-wise, this may not sound like a major improvement, but when you consider the fact that increased cell efficiency could reduce the energy costs by at least 20%, we are talking about billions of euros worldwide,” the project leader, Professor Mircea Guina explains.

“The sun is the most abundant and in many ways predictable energy source available to us. The role of solar energy is on the rise,” he continues.

The ERC funding was the result of long-term research strategy at TUT. Professor Guina’s group began its research on high efficiency solar cells with support of Tekes funding in 2009. At the time, a novel material was developed that enabled several cell structures to be piled up, one over the other for better harvesting of the solar spectrum. A follow-up project funded by the European Space Agency, ESA, involved the development of state-of-the-art 3-junction solar cells using the same material. The ERC project to be launched this year will build on the previous research and aim at developing solar cells with unprecedented output, comprising up to 8 junctions.

Guina finds TUT to be a superb breeding ground for highly exciting research. The ERC funding enables the group to focus on its work for the next five years.

“The funding could not have been granted at a better time: this is a testimony that TUT currently holds world leading expertise in this area of research.”

Both terrestrial and space applications

In addition to creating new technology, Mircea Guina’s group also aims to deploy this technology with a quick schedule. This could potentially make Finland one of the world’s forefront countries in terms of next generation solar energy solutions and also in the field of renewable energy as a whole.

“To give you an idea of the scope: a whole soccer field full of current silicon cells could be replaced with just a few square meters worth of new cells made of the III-V materials and produce same energy,” Guina explains.

This new technology could also prove useful in space. Light weight is a substantial benefit for telecommunications satellites, for example. Higher efficiency solar cells are also needed for deeper space travelling.

“If I had to wish for a practical outcome, I hope to be able to incorporate these III-V cells in satellites in approximately ten years’ time, but for terrestrial purposes, the technology can be deployed a lot sooner.”