Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

Posts By: Oliver Weber

Developing the Next Generation of Solar Cells at Oxford PV

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📥  Case Studies, Comment, Internships & visits

Since January I’ve been working with scientists and engineers at Oxford Photovoltaics, a start-up company spun out from Oxford University research that aims to scale up and commercialise perovskite solar cells (so named for the crystal structure of the absorber material).

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Perovskite cells have obtained similar efficiencies to established solar cell technologies like silicon, but are thinner, cheaper and easier to make. They can also be engineered to absorb a different part of the visible solar spectrum than silicon and so be integrated straight on top of silicon cells to make a tandem device that is more efficient than either component on its own.

Instability has been a major problem to solve for perovskite cells, but the research community has made rapid progress on designing more stable devices since they were first reported just a few years ago.

How did I identify this placement?

Basically by speaking to people! I met engineers from Oxford PV at a conference in Swansea and asked if they’d consider hosting a placement student. An interview and a few logistical matters later it was somehow already time to begin.

What were the key differences to working in an academic setting?

The pressures definitely feel different to academia. At University you want to explore research questions in depth and preferably be the first person to publish and tell the world about your science, while in industry everything is kept under wraps. You have to focus on quickly delivering the commercial aspects of the research, even if it means leaving interesting tangential questions unanswered, since the commercial competition is fierce.

What would I recommend for students thinking about an internship?

Absolutely go for one! Be careful that both you and the host organisation know what to expect, bring energy and enthusiasm to the role and it’s a real chance to learn a lot in a different environment, potentially outside your comfort zone. Three months is not a lot of time to execute a project in a new setting, so I had to quickly get up to speed with procedures and equipment. The result is that I’ve had a fantastic time, learnt a huge amount both scientifically and about how things are done in a start-up company and met many people working on making a promising new renewable energy technology into a commercial reality.


Oli is studying towards his PhD on 'Optimizing energy harvesting processes in metal halide photovoltaics' with Professor Mark Weller and Professor Chris Bowen.

 

Boston Materials Research Society Conference

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

Oli Weber (Cohort '13) and Dan Davies (Cohort '14) recently attended the Boston MRS Fall Meeting 2016. This post was jointly written about their experience.


The CSCT was well represented at the Boston MRS Fall Meeting 2016, with myself, Dan Davies, Jemma Rowlandson (previously Cohort ’13, now University of Bristol) and alumnus Dr Adam Jackson (Cohort ’11, now UCL) in attendance. A major international conference can be an overwhelming experience, especially when it spans, conceptually, the whole of materials science and physically, an entire conference venue and the hotel next door. Much of the week was spent dashing between seminar rooms, trying simultaneously to catch the best talks while working off the effects of overlarge food portion sizes.

I embodied an academic stereotype by writing my presentation on the flight on the way to the conference, having being told at the last minute that my poster abstract could be swapped for a talk. I gave my talk on the first day of the conference in symposium ES3: Perovskite Solar Cell Research from Material Properties to Photovoltaic Function. I spent a fair amount of time in the perovskite session, hearing numerous exciting results, though many of my personal conference highlights came from wandering into seminar rooms with tangential or non-existent links to my own research. I heard Shreyas Shah from Bell Labs speak on interfacing nanomaterials with neural stem cells for neural regeneration, by combining visible light-responsive ion channels and upconversion nanoparticles to transform infrared light transmitted through biological tissue into blue luminescence to achieve optogenetic control of neuronal activity.

Oli takes in the sights

Oli takes in the sights

There were many other great talks, including Yi Cui from Stanford, on thin film silicon photovoltaics, Dan Nocera from Harvard, on complete artificial photosynthetic systems and Yuval Goren on the conservation of clay cuneiform tablets in the Negev desert, which are the oldest written records and provide the only external account of the Trojan war.

Meanwhile, Dan presented a poster in the TC2 symposium on high throughput screening of inorganic materials. The poster sessions at the MRS meetings are always very well attended and quite intense – it can feel like giving a two-hour oral presentation! The work went down pretty well though and it was a great opportunity to discuss it with so many researchers with such a broad variety of interests and backgrounds.

Oli, Jemma and Dr Valeska Ting get a photo during the meeting.

Oli, Jemma and Dr Valeska Ting get a photo during the meeting.

Other than that, Dan spent most of his time in the TC1 and TC2 symposia on computational materials chemistry and materials discovery guided by computation. The work presented in TC2 by curators of the Materials Project, Gerbrand Ceder and Kristin Persson, was particularly interesting as a demonstration of the high-throughput calculations that are now possible with modern supercomputers. On the flip side, the TC1 symposium had some really interesting sessions on machine learning, where it was shown how data-mining and statistical analysis techniques are now being used to predict new materials, thereby avoiding costly quantum mechanical calculations altogether. Anubhav Jain from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab presented some new codes he had developed in order to aid materials scientists who are interested in applying data-mining techniques.

The conference also had some excellent sessions on the ‘Broader Impact’ of materials research. For example, the symposium BI1: Today’s Teaching and Learning in Materials Science – Challenges and Advances, featured some very impressive educational studies on the best approaches for teaching undergraduates and graduates materials science topics. These sessions were ideal for picking up transferable knowledge and tips that could be applied in teaching roles as well as in public engagement activities.

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Oli is studying towards his PhD on 'Optimizing energy harvesting processes in metal halide photovoltaics' with Professor Mark Weller and Professor Chris Bowen.

Dan is currently working on his PhD project: 'Interface engineering for indium-free transparent electronics' with Professor Aron Walsh, Dr Duncan Allsopp and Dr Ben Morgan.