7th December 2009 – Harvesting Sunlight

Can solar power meet our requirements for a sustainable energy supply?

Every year we are using the same amount of energy that it has taken the Earth one million years to store in fossil fuels. We are increasingly aware that the burning of our precious fossil fuels cannot continue for long, but what viable alternatives exist? One answer is solar power, but can solar power alone meet our growing energy demands?

Dr Darren Graham from the Photon Science Institute of the University of Manchester will lead the discussion into the requirements of a sustainable energy source, reviewing current solar technologies and introducing promising new directions being explored in laboratories around the world. Dr Graham’s research is primarily concerned with developing a new generation of solar-harvesting nano-cells, which are based on nanoparticles: clumps of atoms that are a billionth of a metre in size and which promise to simultaneously increase solar cell efficiency and reduce cost.

Dr Graham uses synchrotron radiation facilities across Europe to understand how the structure of these nanoparticles influences their light-harvesting properties, and laser facilities at Manchester University to investigate the mechanisms of electricity generation in prototype solar cells. Through the insight this research is providing Dr Graham and colleagues are optimising the design of these novel solar nano-cells, which they hope will soon enable their widespread implementation.

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