British Businesses Developing Next Generation of Solar Energy Harvesting Technology

February 24, 2011 by Jeff Shepard

Under the RCUK Program, Nanoscience through Engineering to Application, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Technology Strategy Board are investing in four industry-led collaborative research and development projects that will address challenges in building the supply chain and scaling-up technologies. The aim of the investment is to help ensure that the UK can become an early and competitive adopter of the novel technologies, placing British companies in a good position to take a share of a global market with rapidly increasing demand.

This investment is part of a two stage initiative under the Nanoscience through Engineering to Application Grand Challenge for Energy. The University partners on three of the funded projects had initially received 3 years of funding from EPSRC and these projects will follow on seamlessly to scale-up the technologies developed in the first stage.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is to provide grants totaling €3.3 million to the academic institutions taking part in the research while the Technology Strategy Board’s grants to the industrial participants will total €1.7 million. The total value of the four projects, taking into account contributions from the industrial partners, will be €7.3 million. The companies leading the projects will be Pilkington Technology Management Ltd, Tata Steel UK, Kurt J Lesker and Intrinsiq Materials Ltd.

Explaining the aims of the competition, Iain Gray, Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board said, "These projects will help to position British businesses to exploit the growing global demand for solar energy harvesting technologies – and in the process help grow the British economy – while at the same time provide sustainable energy solutions for the UK. The projects are great examples of how to transfer commercially-focused research into the business community."

David Delpy, Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council said, "This is the first example of Nanoscience research funding from the Research Councils being directly pulled through to application funding with the Technology Strategy Board via a stage-gated funding route. This approach actively supports economic growth whilst helping to solve one of society’s greatest challenges."

While the current installed electricity generating capacity is approximately 80GW, projected demand is likely to be up to 50% higher than this by 2050. At the same time, government targets demand an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Provided new innovative methods of energy capture and storage are discovered, developed and exploited rapidly, the sun could provide sufficient energy to make up the shortfall. Nanoscale technologies can enable new solar energy harvesting solutions through the generation of novel materials that can be deployed to deliver commercially attractive efficiencies at a low cost and a reasonable lifetime of service.