New solar cell material could send panel prices plummeting

Oxford University researchers have been handed a cheque to develop a new solar cell coating that would make next generation panels much more affordable.

Currently, the vast majority of panels are coated in indium tin oxide (ITO).  Indium is a scarce material, and is much in demand for a variety of hardware purposes, such as LCD screens and indeed solar photovoltaic panels.  In fact the total market for ITO will be worth around $26.8 billion by 2016.

Due to the scarcity of supply and volatile pricing of ITO, researchers are attempting to find cheaper alternatives for conductive solar cell coatings.  This is good for people, not to mention the clear benefits for the environment in terms of making PV panels more readily available.

For example research is currently going into the development of ‘wonder material’ graphene for just this purpose.

However the Oxford Uni researchers are developing a new type of coating which is based on more readily available materials.

This involves the use of zinc, a more abundant element.  The team at Oxford are now using funding from the Materials Science Venture Prize to develop solar panel coatings using silicon doped zinc oxide.

This material apparently offers less conductivity – around two thirds that of ITO – but other attributes such as transparency are similar.

With the material easier to come by though, it will mean that its use on large scale panels will be a lot cheaper.

The funding will now mean that the team are able to test out manufacturing processes, and will explore the use of silicon doped zinc oxide in LCD screens and other applications.