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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/W010062/1
Title: Reimagining Photovoltaics Manufacturing
Principal Investigator: Beattie, Professor NS
Other Investigators:
Woolley, Dr E Tyrer, Professor JR Zoppi, Professor G
Barrioz, Dr V Jones, Dr L C R
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Arup Group Ltd Corning SAS Laser Optical Engineering Ltd
Department: Fac of Engineering and Environment
Organisation: Northumbria, University of
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 March 2022 Ends: 28 February 2025 Value (£): 986,018
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Manufacturing Machine & Plant Materials Processing
Solar Technology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Manufacturing Energy
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
02 Sep 2021 Adventurous Manufacturing Round 1 Follow-On prioritisation panel Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
This programme, Reimagining Photovoltaics Manufacturing, is an adventurous and ambitious follow-on programme to an initial feasibility study, Photovoltaic Paint. It focuses on achieving the manufacturing research breakthroughs needed to enable a design-led approach to photovoltaics (PV) manufacturing which will result in much tighter aesthetic integration of PV with products in the built environment and automotive sectors. Ultimately, this will substantially increase the global deployment of sustainable electricity and disrupt the current model of PV manufacturing, creating significant commercial opportunities for the UK.

Current PV manufacturing relies critically on economies of scale with around two-thirds of manufacturing occurring in Asia. The problem with this approach is that PV modules are now highly standardised and only near-term competitive in large-scale, solar farm applications. This limits the rate at which PV deployment can grow globally in a period when tangible carbon dioxide savings are vital. A further disadvantage is that PV manufacturing is 95% based on silicon wafer technology which is brittle and requires capital intensive facilities. In turn, this limits the opportunities for seamless product integration to niche applications which are currently not cost effective.

Our central research hypothesis is that these barriers can be overcome using the manufacturing research outcomes from the initial Photovoltaic Paint programme. More specifically, in Reimagining Photovoltaics Manufacturing, we will apply new capabilities in slot-die coating and inkjet materials printing to create patterned and nature-inspired solar cells that are unlike anything available today. Furthermore, by replacing a carbon-intensive thermal processing step commonly used in the manufacturing of inorganic thin film solar cells with targeted laser annealing, we will be able to manufacture these solar cells on a wide range of useful substrates that allow aesthetic and economically viable integration of PV with products.

An important feature of our design-led approach to PV manufacturing is that it inherently prioritises sustainability. More specifically, we are targeting scalable, rapid and energy efficient manufacturing processes with low wastage and non-toxic materials. We will also assess the opportunity to recover and reuse valuable components of our solar cells as part of their end-of-life decommissioning.

The programme has two key routes to impact. Firstly, its design-led principles can be applied to several promising PV materials being developed by other research groups in the UK and around the world. Secondly, we will involve product designers and engineers with specific knowledge of innovation in key sectors, in our manufacturing research. This is novel and an important distinction to the current model which focuses on technology development and ultimately, the combination of these routes will create compelling new products and accelerate carbon savings worldwide.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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