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Otago-Korea collaboration pursuing innovative solar cells

Thursday 3 March 2016 11:39am

Professor Keith Gordon.

A Department of Chemistry researcher has received Government funding for an international research collaboration working on third-generation solar cells that produce clean, low-cost energy.

Professor Keith Gordon has gained $354,000 through the new Catalyst Fund, which aims to strengthen international research collaboration by linking New Zealand with world-class international research groups, infrastructure and initiatives.

He will be working with world-leading scientists at Korea University and the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology on the problem of how to produce printable organic polymer solar cells with enough energy-generating efficiency that they are commercially viable.

His MacDiarmid Institute colleague Dr Justin Hodgkiss of Victoria University is also part of the collaboration in which they will share their expertise in understanding how polymer materials work.

"This research [is] ... set to revolutionise how many electronic materials such as solar cells, lighting units and screen displays will be made in the future."

Current solar cell technology is largely based on crystalline silicon, an expensive material similar to that used in computer chips. Polymer-based solar cells instead hold the promise of being cheaper to produce, more lightweight and flexible. The technology involves printing polymers onto surfaces where they dry into a film.

“It is still a question though of coming up with the right polymer materials that can match or better the efficiency of today’s solar cells — we are close, but not quite there yet,” Professor Gordon says.

Professor Gordon and Dr Hodgkiss will have PhD students dedicated to working with the Korean researchers, including lab visits to better understand the materials and help optimise them.

“This research falls under the wider umbrella of molecular or polymer electronics, which are set to revolutionise how many electronic materials such as solar cells, lighting units and screen displays will be made in the future.”

Other Catalyst Fund projects with Otago involvement are:

  • Exploring inequities for immunisation and vaccine preventable diseases among immigrant children
  • Climate Change Adaptation in Alpine and Sub-Antarctic Island Plants
  • International Woodsmoke Research Network
  • Phytocat: high-value products from metal-rich biomass (Professor Gordon is also involved in this project.)
  • Impacts of Social Isolation and Loneliness on Health Status and Mortality in Ageing Populations