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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S001395/1
Title: Computer-aided design of zinc phosphide heterojunctions for efficient solar energy conversion
Principal Investigator: Dzade, Dr N Y N
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Eindhoven University of Technology Swansea University Syngaschem BV (Global)
UCL
Department: Chemistry
Organisation: Cardiff University
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship - NHFP
Starts: 29 June 2018 Ends: 28 June 2021 Value (£): 525,254
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Solar Technology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Energy
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
10 May 2018 EPSRC UKRI CL Innovation Fellowship Interview Panel 10 - 10 and 11 May 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The growing need for energy by our society and the depletion of conventional energy sources demands the development and improvement of safe, renewable and low-cost clean energy technologies. Photovoltaic (PV) technology which makes use of the super-abundant and freely available Sun's energy to generate electricity has obvious economic, environmental and societal benefits. However, in order for PV technology to provide a significant fraction of the world's energy demands, devices must be composed of cheap and earth-abundant materials. Science and engineering are in a unique position to address the challenge to discover, design and develop inexpensive, non-toxic, and earth-abundant new materials that exhibit the ideal electronic properties for PV applications.

This proposal outlines the strategy for the rational design of zinc phosphide (Zn3P2) heterojunctions for the efficient conversion of solar energy into electricity. Zinc phosphide is ideally positioned as a next-generation PV material due to its direct band gap of 1.50 eV, which allows it to absorb a high percentage of the solar spectrum. Zn3P2 also has a high visible-light absorption coefficient, long minority-carrier diffusion length, a large range of potential doping concentrations, and both of its constituent elements are non-toxic, cheap and abundant, which makes Zn3P2 a promising material for cost-effective and scalable thin-film photovoltaic applications. Despite its germane electronic properties, to date, a Zn3P2 device of sufficient efficiency for commercial applications has not been demonstrated. The highest solar energy-conversion efficiencies of 6.0% for multi-crystalline and 4.3% for thin-film cells have been reported. The low efficiencies of the thin film and heterojunction-based Zn3P2 devices have been attributed to poor understanding of the interfaces and band-alignment between the emitter and the absorber layers, to high concentrations of interface trap states (Fermi-level pinning), and/or to inadequate interface passivation. Given their 2-dimensional nature and their typical location buried within bulk materials, interfaces are difficult to resolve or access by purely experimental means.

The goal of this cross-disciplinary project is, therefore, to develop and employ a combination of cutting-edge computational techniques and experiment to design and identify the key interfacial and electronic properties needed for the practical performance of zinc phosphide photovoltaics to achieve improved solar energy-conversion efficiencies. The use of a synergistic computational-experimental approach will help address key questions about the nature of atomic ordering (chemical and structural) and the electronic properties of the surface and interface of epitaxial Zn3P2 films grown on II-VI and III-V substrates, which will unlock a promising pathway towards the development and commercialization of low-cost, high-efficiency and earth-abundant Zn3P2 photovoltaic devices.

The innovation of the proposed project is based on the engineering and transformation of earth-abundant and non-toxic Zn3P2 into a cost-effective, highly efficient and scalable thin-film PV material that provides additional environmental, health and economic benefits to the UK and globally. The main deliverables and benefits of the proposed project include, but are not limited to (i) atomic-level understanding of the surface and interface properties of a Zn3P2 epilayer, which has important implications on device fabrication and performance; and (ii) the growth of high-quality epitaxial Zn3P2 films on II-VI and III-V substrates as proto-types for industrial-scale PV applications.
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