Cheaper solar cells with nanotechnology

A joint Spanish-Norwegian research project aiming to use nanotechnology in developing cost-effective materials for use in solar cells and batteries has laid the foundation for future cooperation between Spanish and Norwegian researchers.

ES-NO Research cooperation

The project seeks to find possible replacements for indium tin oxide – a metal that is both expensive and difficult to obtain, but widely used in energy production and storage. In addition to this, the metal has many other technological applications. The researchers experimented with tin, titanium and gallium, changed the materials’ properties and used them in lithium-ion batteries and new types of solar cells.

Working together to reduce reliance on rare earths

As part of the project, the two Spanish Ph.D. students Miguel Graciá Tecedor and Felix del Prado Hurtado from the Complutense University of Madrid spent several months in Norway at the Institute of Energy Technology (IFE). IFE is the Norwegian partner in the project.

“A lot of work remains, but the results so far are very encouraging,” says García. As part of the project, he has spent several months in Norway at the Institute of Energy Technology (IFE) Together with Del Prado and another Ph.D. student. IFE is the Norwegian partner in the project, and has worked with the Spanish researchers for the last 18 months.

The research is part of a European effort to reduce reliance on so-called rare earths – 17 substances that are used in the manufacture of a number of technological devices that surround us daily. China accounts for more than 90 per cent of the world’s production of rare earths, and, in reality, controls both price and supply of indium and the other substances.

Long-standing cooperation

With about €80 000 in support from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, the ‘SUSOX – Sustainable oxide materials and nano-structures for energy-related applications’ project aims to lay the  foundation for long-standing cooperation between Spanish and Norwegian researchers within the field of renewable energy and environmental technology.   

Through the project, both institutions have utilised their strengths and expertise. While Complutense University has the expertise to develop complex nanomaterials based on substances like tin, titanium and gallium, IFE has competence in theoretical modelling of materials and development of solar technology and lithium-ion batteries.  

Unique insight

Project coordinator, Prof. Bianchi Méndez, believes that the Spanish students who took part in the exchange with the Norwegian Institute for Energy Technology have gained valuable insight into how their experiments can be translated into reality. During their stay in Norway, Del Prado (28) built batteries, while Garciá (27) built a part of a solar cell.

“In Madrid we develop the materials, but we don’t do the final testing. Thus we don’t really know how they will work. We had to go to Norway to witness the final step,” says Garciá.

“The project has delivered some important results. The researchers believe that the experiments with solar cell materials could be commercial products, and plan to seek patent together. The technology has already attracted the interest of two private enterprises in Norway,” explains senior researcher at IFE, Smagul Karazhanov. He coordinated the Norwegian part of the project.

“We are planning to apply for a patent based on the experiments with lithium-ion batteries, but this project is still in its early stages. When the project started we didn't expect that the cooperation would result in innovative discoveries. While we have always believed that this is an interesting field, we didn't expect to get this far,” says Karazhanov.

The SUSOX project finished in November 2015, but Méndez and Karazhanov have already started to look for new sources of funding to continue the joint project.

More information about the programme

The ‘NILS Scholarship’ programme in Spain has received almost €4 million in funding from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, and consists of 111 projects. 105 of the projects have a donor project partner from Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway. The programme aims to strengthen researcher mobility and cooperation between researchers at different stages of their careers, and offers the opportunity for Spanish degree and master students to carry out part of their studies in Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. 

This article was originally published on the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education’s website (in Norwegian):

Read more about the EEA Grants to Spain