A solar research team at the University of Oxford have been awarded the Materials Science Venture Prize by the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers to help develop technology that will reduce the manufacturing costs of new-generation solar photovoltaic cells.

Professor Peter Edwards, Head of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Catherine’s College, will use the £25,000 prize to develop manufacturing processes for his group’s transparent zinc-based conducting oxide coatings, which are far cheaper to develop than the traditionally used indium-based coating which is relatively scarce, expensive and has a highly volatile price.

Zinc is a much more abundant material than indium, and our silicon-doped zinc oxide material offers electrical conductivities around two thirds of ITO, with comparable optical transparency. In addition to solar cells, our new coating could be used with lighting displays and LCD displays used in smart phones, computers and televisions,” commented Professor Edwards.

Chairman of the Armourers & Brasiers Venture Prize judging panel, Professor Bill Bonfield, said that the Oxford team’s new coating could seriously reduce costs for manufacturers and consumers.

“Our aim is to encourage innovative scientific entrepreneurship and help providing funding, which is often very difficult to source, to help bring new materials science research like this to market,” he explained.  

The Oxford University researchers will also work with Dr Jamie Ferguson of Isis Innovation, the University’s technology transfer company, to develop the coatings to the point where they can be commercialised. The funding will help to pay for trial manufacturing techniques that will demonstrate the use of the new thin-film coatings in photovoltaic products, organic light emitting diodes and LCD displays.

“There is an exciting opportunity here for the UK – which already has strong glass and high-technology manufacturing industries – to capitalise on new technologies. Projects such as Professor Edwards’ transparent conductors offer the chance to strengthen our advanced materials manufacturing base by producing highly competitive new-generation materials,” Dr Ferguson said.

The project will be co-supervised by Prof Edwards and by Dr Vladimir Kuznetsov, Senior Research Fellow in the Edwards Group.