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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/V014498/1
Title: Instilling Defect-Tolerance in ABZ2 Photovoltaic Materials
Principal Investigator: Hoye, Dr R
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Oxford Photovoltaics Ltd Soochow University China University of Cambridge
Department: Materials
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 March 2021 Ends: 29 February 2024 Value (£): 437,299
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Materials Characterisation Materials Synthesis & Growth
Solar Technology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
R&D Energy
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
21 Oct 2020 EPSRC Physical Sciences - October 2020 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
This project aims to develop a new class of semiconductors for photovoltaics (PVs) that can tolerate defects to achieve high efficiencies when manufactured by low capital-intensity and scalable methods.

PVs produce clean electricity from sunlight, and their deployment in the UK needs to accelerated by over an order of magnitude so that we can meet our legislated net-zero CO2 emissions target by 2050. New thin film PV materials are urgently needed. Thin film PVs can be used in tandem device structures, in which they are deposited on top of silicon PVs (which dominate the market) or smaller-bandgap thin film PVs. These tandem devices convert a larger fraction of the solar spectrum into electrical energy and can achieve efficiencies surpassing the best single-junction devices, which will be vital for accelerating utility-scale PV deployment. Thin film PVs can also be used as energy-harvesting roof-tiles, windows or cladding to enable sustainable carbon-neutral buildings.

But across all applications, it is essential that the materials are efficient when made with by low cost manufacturing methods. The limiting factor is the deleterious role of point defects, such as vacancies. In traditional semiconductors, these point defects introduce energy levels deep within the bandgap and cause irreversible losses in energy. Minimising the density of these defects often requires expensive manufacturing routes. Defect-tolerant semiconductors circumvent these limitations by forming defect levels close to the band-edges (i.e., shallow), where they are less harmful. Such materials were rare until the recent serendipitous discovery of the lead-halide perovskites. Grown cheaply by solution-processing, these polycrystalline materials have over a million times more defects than silicon but are already more efficient in PVs than multi-crystalline silicon. A critical question is whether defect-tolerance can be found in other classes of materials that are free from the toxicity burden of the halide perovskites.

This work aims to develop a set of design rules to pinpoint lead-free defect-tolerant semiconductors, and systematically develop these materials into efficient, stable PVs that can be deployed on the terawatt scale. The materials focussed on are ABZ2 compounds, where A is a monovalent cation, B a divalent cation and Z a divalent anion. These materials already show promising signs hinting at defect-tolerance.

My approach draws off my experimental strengths in the control of complex thin films. I hypothesise that materials forming shallow traps can be identified through their crystal structure, band-edge orbital composition and degree of cation-anion orbital overlap. I will experimentally elucidate the role of each property by tuning the composition of a small set of ABZ2 materials to vary one property at a time. Defect tolerance will be measured by intentionally inducing vacancies and measuring their effect on charge-carrier lifetime and electronic structure. These design rules will be applied to identify the most promising ABZ2 materials, which will be grown by scalable solution- and vapour-based methods. I will optimise their growth using a fast experimental feedback loop to achieve materials with promising bulk properties for solar absorbers. Such materials will be developed into PVs, drawing off my skills and experience in device engineering.

This work is extremely timely and will lead the emerging area of defect-tolerant semiconductors away from toxic perovskites. The new materials can ultimately become commercial contenders for tandem or building-integrated PVs, and therefore impact on the £120B PV industry. These new materials can also have much broader impact and be used, for example, as cheap but efficient materials for clean solar fuel production or biosensors. This project sets the key foundations for achieving these exciting possibilities and will enable me to set-up my group with a cutting-edge programme.
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Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk