Our research priorities

The fields of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy research are diverse.  Have a look at some of our major research areas listed below and contact the project leaders if you have questions;

Buried contact and other commercial silicon wafer solar cells

S. Wenham
UNSW has had considerable success in developing and commercialising photovoltaic technologies such as the buried contact solar cell, with licensees in several countries. A major program focuses on adapting the high-performance attributes of UNSW’s world-record solar cells for use in low-cost implementations suitable for commercial manufacturing.

Ink-jet printing technology for high efficiency solar cells

S. Wenham
A major research area has recently been established in the School that aims at evaluating ink-jet printing technology for use in the fabrication and manufacturing of solar cells.

Light trapping in thin crystalline silicon

S. WenhamM. Green
Light trapping in silicon refers to the use of certain structures for the device that are able to trap light within the silicon material as it repeatedly bounces between the front and rear surfaces. Light trapping is particularly important in thin-film silicon solar cells to effectively enhance the absorption of the semiconductor material by making it appear thicker than it really is. The concept of total internal reflection and the use of metal/other reflectors can be important in this research area.

N-type wafer solar cells

S. Wenham, M. Green
P-type wafers have dominated commercial production for decades. In recent years however, improved understanding of boron-oxygen related defects in such wafers has led to growing importance on developing new technology based on n-type wafers that do not suffer the same degradation mechanisms. A range of new cell fabrication approaches and design concepts are being explored and developed with the aim of implementing and optimising high-performance n-type wafer cell technology commercially throughout the world.

Photovoltaic device and material characterisation

A. Sproul, M. Green
UNSW has developed excellent device and material characterisation capabilities, which are used extensively within the University's photovoltaic device and technology development projects.

Photovoltaic module design

S. Wenham
The high cost of photovoltaic devices relative to the encapsulation materials provides considerable incentive and opportunity to develop innovative module designs. Such designs can use reduced photovoltaic device area in conjunction with appropriate optics that collect and redirect light incident on adjacent regions to the solar cells, across to the solar cells. These are often referred to as static concentrators.

Sustainable energy in developing countries

A. Bruce
This research area focuses on the development and use of photovoltaic technology for improving the standard of living for those in developing countries. Its research and educational activities are closely linked with UNSW students travelling each year to countries such as Nepal and Nicaragua to help with technology development, implementation and use. PV system design is also an important component of this work.

Screen-printed solar cells

S. Wenham
Screen-printed solar cell technology has dominated commercial markets for several decades. Despite the development and commercialisation of higher performance solar cell technologies, nothing has compared with the commercial dominance of screen-printing. Several new projects have been established to overcome the fundamental performance limitations of screen-printed solar cells while retaining their simplicity, robustness, manufacturing equipment requirements and low cost.

Semiconductor device modelling

M. GreenA. SproulS. Wenham, S. Bremner
UNSW has developed a particular strength in device modelling, including device modelling software such as PC1D and DESSIS. The strong device-oriented experimental programs at UNSW provide the ideal environment for ongoing developments with device simulation and modelling software packages. This modelling capability has recently been extended to the modelling of material based on silicon quantum dots. Further expansion of this modelling capability to include strain effects in epitaxial nanostructures is being developed.

Silicon photonics

M. GreenS. WenhamT. Trupke
The School’s work in silicon photonics, based on the fact that solar cells are very good emitters if operated in reverse mode, has two main thrusts. The first is to demonstrate silicon light emitters that can be integrated into silicon microelectronic circuits. The second is to investigate the feasibility of innovative schemes for demonstrating a silicon laser. A range of silicon optoelectronic characterisation activities underpins both programs.

Silicon wafer solar cells

M. GreenA. SproulS. Wenham
Approximately 90% of commercially manufactured solar cells are made from crystalline silicon wafers and a major part of photovoltaic research at UNSW focuses on this type of device. UNSW has led the world in high-performance silicon solar wafer cells for more than a decade and has had considerable success developing commercially significant technologies.

Thin-film crystalline silicon photovoltaic devices

M. Green
Material costs dominate the conventional silicon wafer-based photovoltaic technologies. In theory, with good light trapping and surface passivation it should be feasible to still achieve efficiencies well above 10% using crystalline silicon layers of only about 1% of the thickness of conventional wafers. This commercially relevant research area focuses on the development of these thin-film technologies and addresses materials, device performance, and manufacturing issues. A new electron-beam evaporator, able to co-evaporate from three sources for production of silicon-germanium alloys, was acquired in 2006.

Third generation photovoltaics

M. GreenG. ConibeerR. CorkishS. Bremner
First generation photovoltaics refer to the wafer-based technologies, while second generation photovoltaic devices encompass all the thin-film technologies. The principal objective of the third generation research at UNSW is to significantly improve photovoltaic performance beyond that of present devices. Ultimately, it is anticipated that photovoltaic devices may use quite different concepts, materials and energy conversion processes, perhaps ones not even contemplated at this stage. Areas of interest for researchers in this group include silicon-based nanostructure tandem cells, the characterisation of silicon nanostructures, the development and improvement of modelling techniques, up-conversion devices, hot carrier cells, limiting efficiency programs, coupling of light with surface plasmons and quantum antennas. The group is expanding its capabilities to investigate implementation of these approaches in nanostructures based on GaAs and related III-V compound semiconductors. The fundamental research in this area may not realise actual devices for several years.

Advanced modelling of turbulent combustion

E. Hawkes
Accurately predicting turbulent combustion is essential to optimise the next generation clean and efficient combustion devices. Recent advances in computational power and algorithms have enabled new classes of high fidelity approaches with the potential to model combustion with a much greater accuracy. Several projects are available to exploit data from the largest ever-direct numerical simulations of combustion to advance these new models.

Computing reacting flows in biomass-to-liquids technology

E. Hawkes
Many biofuel production and utilisation technologies are underpinned by complex multi-scale and multi-physics flow phenomena that defy attempts to apply 'one size fits all' design rules. Improved computational modelling is required to facilitate the rapid development, scale-up and optimisation of these technologies. Possible topics could include modelling of:

  • Efficient dedicated bio-fuel IC engines
  • Catalytic tar cracking in fluidised beds for producer gas clean-up
  • Biomass gasification or pyrolysis in fluidised beds
  • Fischer-Tropsch liquids synthesis in catalytic fluidised beds
  • Algae growth in bubbly ponds and photobioreactors for biodiesel production.