Directed assembly of nanocrystals for tuneable semiconducting polymer composites

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Materials


Semiconducting polymer/nanocrystal composites are attracting great interest for applications in next generation solar cells, light emitting diodes and photonic materials. They can combine the advantages of both the organic and inorganic components and are based on a wide suite of possible materials and structures with potential for low cost manufacture. Controlling the structural arrangements (morphology) of semiconducting polymer/nanocrystal composites is a key challenge that has major implications for next generation optoelectronic devices. These devices detect and control or emit light. Here, we focus on semiconducting polymer/nanocrystal composites with potential solar energy applications. Building on our proof-of-principle study we aim to combine control of nanocrystal geometry and composition with their spatial arrangements within semiconducting polymer/nanocrystal composites to establish solar cells with improved efficiencies. We will construct new nanocrystals and establish new methods for achieving precisely controlled morphologies within polymer/nanocrystal composites using approaches that are scaleable and potentially low cost. A successful outcome to this study would result in a step-change in polymer/nanocrystal composite morphology control and a new generation of high efficiency polymer/nanocrystal solar cells.

Planned Impact

Successful outcomes to our proposed research would deliver new, generally applicable, methods for constructing nanostructured polymer/nanocrystal composites and world-leading power conversion efficiency values for polymer/nanocrystal (hybrid) solar cells. The requirement for widespread implementation of low cost solar energy generation technologies continues gain urgency. This is being driven by the increasing importance of carbon neutral (or negative) energy generation and energy security. If successful, this proposal will bring forward the future large-scale application of polymer/nanocrystal solar cells. This would benefit electricity consumers, the UK government and solar cell industries.

Low cost building integrated solar cells (e.g., rooftop solar cells) would enable wide-spread microgeneration. This would provide energy security for the consumer as well as the potential to reduce energy bills. Low cost solar energy could make an important contribution to the UK governments legal commitment to halve greenhouse gas emmissions by the mid-2020s. It would also provide energy security for the UK. Solar is the fastest growing renewable energy technology. Global investment in solar was about $86 bn in 2010 and increased by 32% compared to 2010 . Hybrid solar cells provide excellent potential as a disruptive solar technology. Success in this project could provide longer term commercial opportunities for UK manufacturers of hybrid solar materials, devices and modules. In addition, there would be potential for a new solar installation industry, providing increased local employment.

The beneficiaries listed above could only benefit directly from this research if the results were translated into new solar cell devices. The key first step for this is patent protection. Once obtained, and supported by high impact peer-reviewed journal articles, the PIs and Co-Is will actively pursue licencing opportunities with companies that have mutual development interests in this area or spin-out creation. The PIs and Co-Is have a strong track record of collaborating with UK industry and starting spin-outs from EPSRC funded research. They have networks of international and UK solar and polymer companies that will be used to explore collaborative development of the new polymer/nanocrystal solar cell platform technologies that should emerge from this project.

The dissemination of the results in the wider media will occur through joint university press releases (after peer-reviewed publication in high impact journals). The applicants have found this to be an excellent means of promoting the benefits of EPSRC-funded science to the broader community and also for attracting interest from UK and international companies.


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