Given the benefits of green technology (both for our environment and our economy), we want to support manufacturers and industrial communities by improving solar panel performance, accelerating development toward earth-friendly materials, and exploring new materials and processes that address the scarcity of materials that leaves the industry vulnerable.
Integrating Green Chemistry and Design
At the core of our methodology lies the use of data-driven science, combined with experimental and computational methods, to design new materials, methods and processes that will be beneficial to the industry, while minimizing environmental and human health impacts.
Because we are working at the beginning of the process, we hope to have a significant impact on the entire life-cycle of third-generation solar cells, from design and development through manufacturing and decommissioning.
For example, our team plans to:
- Accelerate the discovery and application of materials that are safer, renewable and more abundant
- Explore novel capabilities, such as biodegradable materials, or smart materials that can modulate their own function in response to environmental challenges
- Improve the efficiency of the manufacturing process, including ways to use less material while increasing production
- Maximize the durability and longevity of third-generation solar panels, including their ability to withstand wind, erosion from sand in desert environments, and other harsh environmental factors
- Address the growing scarcity of rare earth materials commonly used in solar cell manufacturing, while respecting the geographical boundaries of rare earth metals depositories
- Ensure that worker safety and community health are considered at the beginning of the design process, and influence decisions throughout the anticipated life-cycle of the cell
What Are Third-Generation Solar Cells?
In the future, most solar cells will likely use “third-generation” technology. Because manufacturers are still developing the materials and processes for these third-generation solar cells, we have an opportunity to influence the design of these cells (and the manufacturing processes) from the beginning.
While first- and second-generation solar cells use silicon as a key material, third-generation cells typically use different technology — including organic materials — to convert sunlight to electricity. Third-generation cells have the potential to be significantly more efficient than previous cells.
Researching New Technologies
By studying the materials and technology that are being considered for third-generation cells, we can gain a thorough understanding of the associated benefits and risks. These new technologies include:
- Perovskite solar cells
- Organic solar cells
- Polymer solar cells
- Quantum dot solar cells
The interdisciplinary team at MDI (UB’s department of Materials Design and Innovation) is establishing a new paradigm for materials science research by changing the chemistry of materials.
Improving Product performance
Making solar panels that last longer will allow manufacturers to charge a premium price. Our team is currently working with manufacturers to improve degradation of solar cells through anti-reflective coatings, manufacturing processes that could improve the weather-resistance of casings, and other methods.