30 March 2010


EU project PRIMA aims to boost PV efficiency

The semiconductor research institute IMEC in Leuven, Belgium says that it has started work, together with its project partners, on PRIMA, a project under the EU’s 7 th framework program for ICT (FP7). The project’s goal is to improve the efficiency and cost of solar cells though the use of metallic nanostructures. In addition to project coordinator IMEC, the partners involved are Imperial College in London, UK, Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, Belgium’s Photovoltech, QuantaSol Ltd of Kingston-upon-Thames, UK, and Australian National University.

Certain nanostructured metallic surfaces show unique characteristics, says IMEC: they can absorb and intensify light at specific wavelengths, because the incoming light results in a collective oscillation of the electrons at the metal's surface. This phenomenon (plasmonics) has many promising applications. It can be exploited to transmit optical signals through nanosized interconnects on chips, in nanoparticles that recognize and interact with biomolecules, or in solar cells.

With solar cells, metallic nanostructures can boost the absorption of light into the cell’s photoactive material. And with enhanced light absorption, it is possible to produce cells with less base material, hence making them thinner and cheaper. IMEC says that metal nanostructures can also improve the absorption in various types of cells, e.g. crystalline silicon cells, cells based on high-performance III-V semiconductors, or organic and dye-sensitized solar cells.

PRIMA’s aim is twofold. First, the project wants to gain insight into the physical mechanisms of metallic nanostructures, and how they can improve the light absorption of the solar cell’s material. Second, the project’s partners want to study how these structures can best be integrated into the production of solar cells. For this, they will test a number of structures, benchmarking them against state-of-the-art solar cells. The performance and applicability of these cells will then be assessed by solar cell firms participating in the project.

IMEC says that European science has traditionally been a leader in the fields of both photovoltaics and plasmonics, and this project should help to maintain Europe’s strong position. Moreover, it should provide the participating industrial partners with a competitive advantage, with the aim of creating employment and sustainable economic growth in Europe while simultaneously contributing to a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases.

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