Solar Cell material breakthrough at TCD

Solar Cells like these have been typically made with silicon, but silicon is an expensive material (Credit: Terry O’Rourke)

Solar energy has huge potential, in Ireland and around the world. For example, scientists have calculated that the entire energy needs of the USA could be provided by solar cells covering two per cent of that nation’s landmass.

Two per cent sounds an awful lot to cover, in a country the size of the US, but this figure corresponds to the area taken up by the country’s motorway and highway network, and the area covered by all of the nation’s rooftops.

It might be a difficult proposition, therefore, but with the will and investment it could be done, in the US or elsewhere.

The thing that is holding such an ambitious project back right now is the fact that the primary material used to make solar cells these days is silicon. Silicon, derived from sand, is expensive, so another economically viable material needs to be found.

The good news is Professor Igor Shvets and his team at TCD and CRANN have developed a cheaper and better option to silicon solar cells. It’s chromium dioxide – with the addition of some nitrogen and magnesium atoms – and it is proving a very promising material indeed.

Researchers believe it could pave the way to huge deployment of solar cells, and also lead to improved flat screen TVs, and other electronic devices.

LISTEN: Interview with Professor Igor Shvets

Broadcast on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 22.03.2012