Metal substrate mounted flexible dye sensitised semiconductor solar cells

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: School of Engineering


More solar energy falls on the Earth's surface every day than the whole of humankind would consume in 27 years (i.e. 10,000 times our needs). To harness this potential and provide a reliable and economic carbon free source of electricity is however a non trivial problem. Dye sensitised semiconductor cells (DSSCs) based on sensitised nanocrystalline titania sandwiched between transparent conducting oxide glass have been developed with efficiencies of up to 11%.The current barriers to DSSCs are cost, manufacturability and durability. Low cost photovoltaic (PV) coatings in the modern built environment promise great financial/environmental benefits, potentially competing with mainstream energy sources. Our novel approach will study dye-sensitised titania photovoltaics in polymer coatings on strip steel, providing a large area solar collector. Our aim is breakthrough low cost PV surfaces, using cost effective materials and rapid/continuous coil coating manufacturing. Corus Colors coil coating facilities produce 1,000,000 T/yr of painted steel products; two thirds of which ends up on roofs. This equates to approximately 100 million m2 of organic coated strip steel (OCS) roofs. The average amount of UK solar irradiation is 900 If the light-to-electricity efficiency of the PV coating is 6%, 100 million m2 of PV coated roofs with an integrated photovoltaic capacity would produce 5400 of electricity. This equates to 600 MW of conventional power capacity or over 2400 MW of a renewable source such as onshore wind power. Considering that this amount of roofing is added to the UK annually, the opportunity for large scale PV energy production is very significant.The continuous fabrication of DSSC's on strip steel raises significant new scientific challenges. These are broadly in four key areas: (1) developing strongly adherent and active sensitised nanostructured titania layers on metal substrates suitable for high speed application, (2) developing a suitable electrolyte which eliminates volatile components and associated sealing issues, (3) optimising collection efficiency and counter electrode design and (4) durability and compatibility of materials to ensure a reasonable operational life in external exposure, including in particular the development of suitable barrier layers to prevent corrosion of the steel substrate. The project brings together leading researchers in the field of dye sensitised solar cells (Imperial) and photoelectrochemistry (Bath), materials deposition and surface chemistry (Bangor) and steel coating development (Swansea). Critical to the success of this ambitious programme is the support of the World's second largest producer of coil coated materials, Corus Colors. The assembled partnership has the capability to deliver a unique solution to cost-effective passive generation of electricity from the walls and roofs of buildings and provide novel mechanistic insights into the fundamental photoelectrochemistry of metal mounted DSSCs.
Description Dye sensitised solar cells are an interesting alternative to those based on silicon. They operate by a dye absorbing the suns energy and activating a semiconductor. As part of this project a range of coloured dyes were developed which means that solar cells with different appearance are possible. In addition a number of the slow steps for making the devices were addressed taking the time to make a cell from 24 hours to under three minutes. As such DSCs could be manufactured. The work also showed some of the failure mechanisms. In particular the fact that the electrolyte (based on iodine) is degraded by the sun which is a surprise since the dye which absorbs light is stable!
Exploitation Route The work showed that there are a range of options for making liquid DSCs on metals that do not require expensive ingredients. The team have subsequently worked with G24 technologies to explore how the metals used in this work can be applied to commercial DSCs for internal applications.
Sectors Construction,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Other