Researchers at Northumbria University are investigating the use of unconventional materials that could significantly lower the cost of photovoltaic energy.  

The research team are investigating the viability of thin film PV modules based on kesterite – Copper-Zinc-Tin Sulphide crystal structure. These materials are less expensive and more widely available than the materials traditionally used in solar PV modules.

The university’s research forms part of the Europe’s €3.7 million KESTCELL project that aims to promote the development of kesterite-based solar.  

Dr Ian Forbes, leader of the research, believes that kesterites could revolutionise the solar market if found to be effective. He explained: “More solar energy falls on the earth's surface in one hour than the entire global population uses in a year. It is important that we increase our capabilities of using the sun as an energy source.

“In order to do this, research is needed to find the best performing thin film technology that is capable of being cheaply manufactured, bringing down the price of photovoltaic energy.

“The goal of the KESTCELLS project is to increase our understanding of these new kesterite materials, measure its efficiency and investigate production scales and whether it can be manufactured en mass.”

Pepe Márquez, an early stage researcher on the project who is studying the effectiveness of kesterites for his PhD added: “”This new kesterite-based technology has great potential in terms of cost effectiveness for the photovoltaic market. We are working with incredibly thin technology – 50 times thinner than a single strand of hair – using microscopic quantities of copper, zinc and tin which makes the panels cheap and capable of being mass produced.”

The KESTCELLS project hopes to cultivate a range of European professionals with specialist knowledge of advanced thin-film PV technologies, which was identified as a main risk facing the future development and consolidation of a competitive solar sector for the EU.