Nanotechnology & solar power

UL researcher, Dr Kevin M Ryan is applying nanotechnology to the problem of solar power – the fastest growing energy sector. Kevin and his research team have developed a cost-effective and efficient method of maximising solar absorption by generating nanrod materials which can be applied across large areas to harness solar power. The solar industry is worth over €100 billion globally, despite this, the world’s energy requirements which are met by solar is less than 1%, this is primarily due to the high cost of production of efficient photovoltaic cells.

Current silicon-based commercial solar cells are very costly to process whereas alternative technologies rely on toxic materials such as cadmium or tellurium. The most sought after materials currently for solar energy conversion are copper-indium-galium-disulfide (CIGS) and di-copper-zinc-tin-tetrasulphide (CZTS). By combining the four elements in each material in the correct combination, very high conversion of solar energy to electricity can be obtained. CIGS cells have shown the highest possible efficiencies whereas CZTS though marginally lower are regarded in the industry as being equally attractive for large scale commercialisation as each of the elements are in high natural abundance. The barrier to application is that current methods of making these materials requires very expensive technologies

Dr  Ryan, explains; “This technology has significant impacts for energy generation world-wide. We have developed a low-cost laboratory method of forming both CIGS and CZTS in nanorod form which can maximise solar absorption. 250 billion of these rods for example will fit on the head of a pin and our technology essentially allows us process these as an ink to form densely packed forests of these nanorods over very large areas optimised to harness the abundant solar power available.”

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This research was funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) through the principal investigator programme to Dr Kevin Ryan and also through funding from the SFI Strategic Research Cluster in Solar Energy Conversion involving University of Limerick, UCD and DCU.  For further information go to www.ifnano.com

The work was recently published in the highly ranked journals ACS NANO and Journal of the American Chemical Society