Photovoltaics: from basic research to industrial applications
An interview with FAU materials scientist Prof. Dr. Christoph Brabec
Sustainable energy is hard to imagine without photovoltaic technology. Photovoltaic cells have a particular advantage as they can be mounted on almost all surfaces, even inside window panes. Even older buildings can be retrofitted in many scenarios. The importance of photovoltaic technology will continue to rise in the future. Prof. Dr. Christoph Brabec, Chair of Materials for Electronics and Energy Technology is conducting fundamental photovoltaic research at FAU. He explains in the following interview how his findings are transferred to industrial applications.
Prof. Brabec, how important is photovoltaic technology for sustainable power generation?
Photovoltaic technology has become a systemically important technology for power generation worldwide and also has the highest growth rate. In Germany, eight to ten percent of the electricity supply is generated by photovoltaic systems, which means that 40 to 50 terawatt hours of electricity per year are already being generated. In comparison, the current peak capacity that can be achieved by all photovoltaic systems around the world is about 630 gigawatts. If the expansion rates continue to be around 100 gigawatts at peak capacity per year, photovoltaic systems will have reached the terrawatts range in a few years, which is on a par with major contributors to electricity generation, such as nuclear power. In addition, photovoltaic technology is also widely accepted by members of the population in comparison to other power generation technology.
Have any of your fundamental research findings been transferred to industrial applications yet?
In a working group at my Chair, we are investigating fully printed photovoltaic modules, which are a very green product overall, in partnership with the Solar Factory of the Future and HIERN. Instead of being silicon-based, these organic solar cells consist of special semiconductor-based polymers and fullerenes – carbon-based nano molecules, which look like a football, or molecular semiconductors. Combined with suitable composites, these solar cells achieve a very high efficiency. They can also be produced as transparent, semi-transparent or opaque. This makes it easy to install them onto building facades, but also window panes – even if they break or fracture, there is no danger to humans due to the use of non-hazardous components. This research has already led to FAU spin-offs, which are now transferring the technology to industry, such as the company sciprios who are designing turnkey pilot production lines for printed photovoltaics.
How can companies benefit from your research?
In another working group we are working to make photovoltaic technology even more efficient – here improvements of only one to two percent can mean enormous cost savings. The advantage of photovoltaic technology is clear: it can be used anywhere – whether on buildings, inside window panes or on any surface. Even road surfaces and train tracks are now being considered as installation surfaces. This offers an incredibly wide range of possibilities. That is why we have been working with the world market leaders in this field for years.
Focus on energy and climate
At the Global Market Leaders Innovation Day on 8 September in the Heinrich-Lades-Halle in Erlangen, energy and climate will be the order of the day with business executives exchanging ideas on innovation in the energy sector and start-ups from FAU presenting their ideas on sustainability.
Prof. Dr. Christoph Brabec