UK Universities Tackle Thin-Film Progress

While the Bush Administration in the U.S. continues to push for an energy bill with only piecemeal, half-hearted attempts to foster solar energy, the UK continues to make large strides towards promoting and implementing solar electric systems as part of the country’s commitments to a national standard for renewable energy.In the latest example of UK support, the largest single research project into solar power ever funded by the UK research councils was launched this month and could help make the energy source more competitive in Britain.

Bath, United Kingdom – April 30, 2004 [] The University of Bath is among six universities and seven companies in the UK that began the &pound4.5 million (US$7.8 million) project this month to half the cost of converting the sun’s rays to electricity using solar cells. “The solar energy project will make an enormously important contribution to providing more environmentally-friendly power for the UK and the rest of the world,” said Professor Laurence Peter, (pictured above) head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Bath and leader of the solar cell research group. “As existing supplies of oil and gas dwindle, so we need to find alternatives that will not damage the environment and solar energy is ideal for this, even in countries like Britain where the sun doesn’t always shine.” The four-year research project could make solar power a viable alternative to fossil fuels, supplies of which are expected dwindle in the future. Cutting the cost of solar energy will stimulate more use of it in Britain, for instance to supply electricity in buildings by putting solar panels on their roofs. Up to now most solar cells have traditionally been made using single crystal silicon, which is produced in an expensive high temperature process. But the new project will develop thin film (amorphous) solar cells, which, although less efficient as the existing single crystal cells, are potentially much cheaper to make. New electroplating methods will allow cells to be put onto large area panels by immersing them in liquid rather than by using more expensive and less environmentally-friendly methods. The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and is entitled Photovoltaic Material for the 21st Century. It is the largest grant the EPSRC has made for solar energy research. The other universities are: Durham, Wales, Northumbria, Southampton and Loughborough. The companies are: Crystalox, Mats UK, Millbrook Instruments, Epichem, Kurt J Lesker, Oxford Lasers and Gatan UK. The project is part of the EPSRC’s “Supergen” initiative, a &pound25 million (US$44.3 million) project to look at alternative energy sources such as the sea, wind and the sun, and also at more efficient ways of storing power.
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