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Durham University

Durham Energy Institute

Solar Energy and Photovoltaics topics

Here you can find details of Masters or PhD research projects currently on offer or being undertaken at Durham University connected to Solar Energy and Photovoltaics.

Please note that new postgraduate research projects are not limited to the suggestions on these pages. A wide range of energy issues and technologies are researched at Durham University.

If there is a specific energy research topic you would like to explore or if you have any questions, please get in contact with evelyn.tehrani@durham.ac.uk and we can link you to the correct energy expert to discuss your ideas further.

Durham University has extensive facilities for PV research.

This includes electrical (J-V, noise), optical (UV-vis) and device (Solar Simulator, external quantum efficiency, environmental chamber) characterisation; structural and morphological probes such as AFM and other extensive facilities in the GJ Russell Microscopy Suite; together with fabrication facilities such as nanoparticle synthesis, spin-coating, glove-boxes and evaporators.

Allied to this is the University’s supercomputing cluster – Hamilton – which enables cutting-edge computational research on PV materials and devices.

Dr Douglas Halliday, Physics & Professor Sandra Bell, Anthropology

The technical, policy and social dimensions of deploying solar technology in specific country contexts.

[Professor Sandra Bell, Anthropology & Dr Douglas Halliday, Physics & Dr Andrés Luque-Ayala, Geography department

Small scale solar panels using low cost LEDs still require up front payment of up to 50 dollars and put them out of reach of the rural poor. What sort of schemes can overcome these problems? What are the strengths and problems associated with schemes in differnet contexts and their implementation?

Dr. Chris Groves, Engineering Department

The design of optimal PV devices for the real world is challenging in a lab setting. One must consider a wide range of competing influences, such as cost, lifetime and degradation on the industry scale, in addition to the more common metrics of power conversion efficiency. This project aims to take the broad view of designing organic PV devices, in particular taking a techno-economic approach to identify the most important aspects of PV operation as to its real-world viability. As such, the student will not only work in a lab to make better PV devices, but also consider industrial scale production, lifetime, as well as economic and social factors involving use. Initial work (figure opposite) has shown impressive gains in lifetime and reductions in cost, leading to a reduction in the levelized cost of energy by a factor of than 2. Our ambitious goal for this project is to reduce this still further, thus placing organic PV on a competitive footing with other technologies.

Dr Groves invites any interested students to get in touch if they would like to join our team (chris.groves@durham.ac.uk).

Professor Sandra Bell, Anthropology & Professor Tooraj Jamasb, Business School & Dr Douglas Halliday, Physics

How far along Roger's technology adoption curve has development progressed already? For example, who are the early adopters of solar and what does their experience tell us about how to recruit the early majority? What is the impact of a lack of subsidies for solar in Mexico? [

Dr Douglas Halliday, Physics Department

Solar cells are too expensive to permit widespread terrestrial use. Overcoming this requires structures which are low cost and robust. Thin film inorganic PV devices can be fabricated using a range of approaches designed to lower the cost. One method that shows potential for low cost fabrication is using an ink based approach. This project will involve fabrication of inorganic nanoparticles by solution based methods to produce a nanoparticle ink. These inks can be used to produce thins films which will then be assessed as possible options for thin film PV devices. The project will identify strategies for improving PV device performance.

Dr Budhika Mendis, Physics Department

Traditional solar cell materials such as silicon, CdTe, Cu(In,Ga)Se2 etc consist of atomic bonds that extend continuously in 3D space. This poses problems when the material is abruptly terminated at interfaces, such as at the p-n junction or at grain boundaries. In fact interfaces are long known to limit the performance of solar cell devices. Recently novel materials have emerged where the atomic bonding is confined to nano-ribbons or layers, which are held together by weak van der Waal’s bonding. Examples include Sb2Se3 (ribbons) and SnS (layers). The interface structure can then be optimised by terminating the material along the van der Waal’s bond. However charge transport is inherently anisotropic in these materials, with the preferred direction being along the ribbon or layer. This project will use state-of-the-art electron microscopy facilities at Durham to evaluate next generation nano-ribbon and nano-layer materials for solar cell applications, focusing on the anisotropic properties and grain boundary interfaces.

Dr. Chris Groves, Engineering Department

OSCs are promising materials for use in a wide range of applications, stretching from solar cells, to LEDs, to transistors. Unlike their inorganic counterparts, the structure of the OSC material plays a key role in the performance of the device they are part of. In this project we will use Kinetic Monte Carlo (KMC) modelling to understand the links between structure and performance in organic photovoltaics, and so will suit someone with experience in programming or a passion for physics. This project lies alongside experimental PhD projects in Dr Groves’ group, leading to the opportunity for exciting collaborations.

Dr Groves welcomes any students interested in his projects to get in touch to discuss further (chris.groves@durham.ac.uk)

[Dr Douglas Halliday, Physics Department

Large scale use of solar photovoltaic devices requires low cost materials. Current thin film solar cells use materials that have relatively low abundance and are too expensive for large scale application. Recently new materials have been developed based on abundant low cost elements. One example is the kesterite system based on Cu, Zn Sn and S. This project will look at the development of thin films of this material and explore ways in which these materials can be developed to produce semiconductor layers appropriate for thin film solar cell devices. The project will involve some growth of thin films and measurement and analysis of films and devices.

Dr. Chris Groves, Engineering Department

Organic solar cells normally comprise a mix of two materials, one each to transport electrons and holes. Recently, interest has developed in utilising a third, inert material in the solar cell to improve the mechanical and degradation properties as well as reduce cost. This project will seek to understand the role that the structure and composition of the inert material has on the photovoltaic, electrical and mechanical properties to enable design of superior devices, which in turn could be applied to a wide range of organic semiconductor devices, including light-emitting diodes and transistors. Initial experiments have shown exciting possibilities with this approach, doubling the lifetime, as shown in the figure opposite.

Dr Groves is very happy to talk to any students wishing to take part in this exciting research (chris.groves@dur.ac.uk)