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Nano Energy


Nano surfaces could slash cost of solar energy


Nanotechnologies which can artificially change the optical properties of materials to allow light to be trapped in solar cells could greatly reduce the cost of solar energy.

Research being carried out by the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University of Southampton is focusing on nanopatterning as the way to design effective solar panels.

‘By drawing features that are much smaller than the wavelength of light, photons can be confused into doing things they normally wouldn’t do,’ says Dr Darren Bagnall, of the School of Electronics and Computer Science. ‘By creating diffractive nanostructured arrays on the surface of solar cells we ensure that optical asymmetries are created that prevent light from escaping the solar cells.’

According to Dr Bagnall the light-trapping technologies could reduce the thickness of semiconductor materials needed in solar panels, and this would directly reduce the cost. The first challenge is to prove that the technology works in practice, the second key challenge will be to develop cost effective ways to produce nanopatterned layers.

The ECS approach is being applied to the £4.5M ‘Photovoltaic Materials for the 21st Century’ project which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Other university partners in this project are Durham, Bangor, Northumbria, Bath and Loughborough. They have teamed up with industrial partners to develop solar cells which will make it possible for manufacturers to slash the cost of solar energy by half.

Dr Bagnall comments: ‘We have already shown that we can use arrays of chiral nanostructures, such as swastikas, to change the polarisation of light, now we want to apply the same technology to photovoltaics.’

1. For further information about Dr Bagnall’s work, visit www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~dmb/

An image of the swastika pattern is available from Joyce Lewis (tel.023 8059 5453; email j.k.lewis@ecs.soton.ac.uk)

2. ECS houses the Nanoscale Systems Integration group which has created a versatile microfabrication facility with state-of-the-art capability to produce a wide range of devices. The group is a recognised centre for collaborative research with other universities in producing new device designs. Collaboration with industry is strong. Further details can be found at http://www.nsi.ecs.soton.ac.uk/

3. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University has over 19,200 students and over 4,800 staff. Its annual turnover is in the region of £250 million.

Useful web sites
www.experts.soton.ac.uk - an A-Z guide of University experts

For further information, please contact:

Dr Darren Bagnall, Nanoscale Systems Integration, School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton
(Tel: 023 8059 7609, email: dmb@ecs.soton.ac.uk)

Joyce Lewis, Communications Manager, Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton (Tel: 023 8059 5453, email:j.k.lewis@ecs.soton.ac.uk)

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