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|Researcher Germà Garcia at the University lab|
Seventeen partners from eight European countries work on ORION (Ordered inorganic-organic hybrids using ionic liquids for Emerging applications), funded by the Seventh Framework Programme of the EU. Coordinated by CIDETEC (Centre for Electrochemical Technologies) in the Basque Country, the project aims to explore possible combinations of organic and inorganic materials designed to provide better photovoltaic solar panels and batteries that store energy more efficiently.
According to lead researcher of the Castellón team, the Professor of Applied Physics Germà Garcia Belmonte, organic and inorganic materials separately have important limitations. ‘For example, inorganic materials such as oxides are very robust but the processing is complicated. On the other hand, organic materials such as plastics are more malleable and thus they are easier to work with but degrade easily because of highly reactivity in the environment' explains the researcher.
Therefore, the aim of the ORION consortium is to develop a hybrid material that combines the best properties of both worlds. This is a four-year project that began in late 2009 and currently partners are designing the structures of the new material. ‘The properties of each material are already well known; however, the challenge lies in finding the optimum combined processing systems.' In short, the partners are looking for a strong enough process that will allow a layer of polymer to adhere effectively to a layer of oxide, for example.
After the study of materials and processing systems, the project involves transferring the results to two specific applications: hybrid solar cells and special configurations of batteries. The objective is, first, to obtain more efficient solar cells, and secondly, to increase the energy storage capacity of conventional batteries.
Common batteries degrade after a few years and this is caused by cyclability failures. The battery of a mobile phone for example, must store energy for later consumption. That means periodic cycles of energy insertion and extraction and we have all seen how this eventually begins to fail. Therefore, ORION experts are working to make the loading and unloading cycle faster and more stable for longer.
As for solar cells, there is much interest in finding a photovoltaic technology cheaper than silicon, the so-called low-cost cells. ‘Making silicon solar panels is very expensive from the energetic point of view because you need a very pure material. This is why over the last fifteen years researchers have been studying photovoltaic technologies that allow easier processing of materials to make solar cells cheaper and easier to produce. Some of the techniques include using inkjet and material deposition systems. We aim at making the cells also stable and durable,' explains Garcia Belmonte.
The research group Photovoltaic and Optoelectronic Devices of Castellón University (www.elp.uji.es/) focuses on the theoretical part of this project, ‘particularly in the modelling of solar cells and electrical characterization, this is to calculate the operating parameters of the cell, from the configurations produced by other consortium partners. On the other hand, we work on the manufacturing process of cells by assembling the layers,' says the researcher.
Once academic partners have built the laboratory samples consisting of small-scale technology, industrial partners will develop full-scale demonstrators from these models. It is expected that upon completion of the project, these partners will design the final product and machinery to produce it at an industrial scale and commercialize the new technology.
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Lauren Kelly Wickman
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