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Durham University

Durham Energy Institute

Solar Energy and Photovoltaics postgraduate research topics

Nature inspired design of novel, earth abundant solar cells. Tera Watt scale electricity generation requires solar cells that consist of abundant, non-toxic and cheap materials. The choice of such materials has been inspired by geological minerals, such as Cu2ZnSnS4 (CZTS) and Sb2Se3. CZTS in particular has received widespread attention in recent years. Despite this the maximum efficiency has plateaued at only 12.6%, significantly below the 20% threshold required for commercial viability.

We therefore look to Nature for alternative solutions, this time in the form of ferroelectric minerals, such as enargite (Cu2AsS4) and bournonite (CuPbSbS3). Uniquely these materials possess an internal electric field, which could potentially enhance electric current extraction in a solar cell. This project will use state-of-the-art electron microscopy techniques to probe the interaction of the electric field domains with other internal microstructural features, in particular grain boundaries, which are known to cause device efficiency losses in most non-ferroelectric solar cells. Results from the project will be used to devise optimisation strategies for creating high efficiency solar cells from ferroelectric materials. [Dr Budhika Mendis, Physics]

Simulating the performance in organic semiconductors (OSCs) to understand the performance of solar cells. [PhD] 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 modelling to understand the links between structure and performance in a wide range of organic electronic applications and so will suit someone with experience in programming. We will focus our attention on the modelling of high charge densities at semiconductor/metal interfaces, which play a key role of removing useful charge from a solar cell and are currently not well-understood. [Dr. Chris Groves, Engineering Department]

Use of inert polymers to improve the performance of organic solar cells. [MRes or PhD] 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 mechanical and electrical 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. This will involve making and testing devices in the cleanroom. [Dr. Chris Groves, Engineering Department]

Uncovering nano-scale order in polymer-based energy materials: Modern high performance polymer materials used in organic LED and solar cell devices rely on nano-scale ordering in order to achieve their electronic properties. Synchrotron X-rays are currently used to detect nano-order, but is extremely expensive and not easily accessible. Fluctuation electron microscopy (FEM) is a technique for probing medium range order in otherwise disordered systems. It is easily implemented using a standard TEM and has been successfully applied to amorphous metals and semiconductors, but not polymer films. The project will apply FEM to a range of polymer systems with varying degrees of order, as well as extend the technique to include blends with a miscibility gap. [Dr Budhika Mendis,Physics & Dr. Chris Groves, Engineering Department]

Sustainable materials for thin film solar cells: 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 Douglas Halliday, Physics]

Nanoparticle ink methods for fabrication of thin film solar cells: 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 Douglas Halliday, Physics]

Deployment of solar power in the UK or other country context: The technical, policy and social dimensions of deploying solar technology in specific country contexts. [Dr Douglas Halliday, Physics & Professor Sandra Bell, Anthropology]

Market opportunities for solar energy in Mexico. 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? [Professor Sandra Bell, Anthropology & Professor Tooraj Jamasb, Business School & Dr Douglas Halliday, Physics]

How can people without access to grid electricity to gain lighting and power to charge phones? 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? [Professor Sandra Bell, Anthropology & Dr Douglas Halliday, Physics & Dr Andrés Luque-Ayala, Geography department]