Zinc coating could cut cost of next gen solar cells

Oxford University researchers have won a £25,0000 prize to develop a coating with the potential to reduce the manufacturing costs of next generation solar cells.

The team, led by Prof Peter Edwards, will use the prize money to trial manufacturing techniques and demonstrate the use of the new thin film coating in photovoltaic products, organic light emitting diodes and lcd displays.

The coating is based on silicon-doped zinc oxide and is said to provide a lower cost alternative to indium tin oxide (ITO). Because of its combination of high transparency and high electrical conductivity, ITO currently dominates the global market for coatings for solar cells and lcd displays.

The market for the material is expected to be worth $26.8bn by 2016. However indium, a rare earth metal, is relatively scarce and expensive, and its supply is tightly controlled.

"Zinc is a much more abundant material than indium, and our silicon-doped zinc oxide material offers electrical conductivities around two thirds of ITO, with comparable optical transparency," Prof Edwards noted. "In addition to solar cells, our new coating could be used with lighting displays and lcd displays used in smart phones, computers and televisions."

Laura Hopperton

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