Thin-film technology to boost green transition
Thin-film technology plays a crucial role in combating climate change, and The Mads Clausen Institute at SDU in Sønderborg is a world leader in organic solar cell research. The researchers are working to make ultra-thin, flexible and transparent solar cells an integral part of our everyday lives. Their expertise and experience will also be used in the research and development of energy storage and green hydrogen technologies.
- Thin-film technology will not curb the climate crisis alone, but it is an important part of the green transition.
So says Professor Morten Madsen, head of the new research centre CAPE. For years, the 42-year-old professor has been at the forefront of the solar cell group at SDU in Sønderborg, delivering groundbreaking research in organic solar cells using thin-film technology.
Thin-films based on metal oxide, hybrid or organic materials are the focus of the centre's research, and the energy technologies developed at the centre are based on these thin-films.
The "thin" part refers to the thickness of the material that forms the film, which can be as thin as 100 nanometres (1/10,000th of a millimetre), depending on the type of thin-film.
Meet the researcher
Morten Madsen is a professor at The Mads Clausen Institute, SDU in Sønderborg, and leader of the new research centre CAPE.
And thin-films are important in the production of the solar cells of the future. Even though solar energy is one of the fastest growing markets in the green transition, it accounts for just four percent of the world's total power generation. We are still far from overcoming the challenges of the climate crisis.
- We have built up extensive experience and expertise in the field of organic solar cell development. This expertise must not only be further increased, but also extended to other new, technological areas, so that we can phase out fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil.
Sustainable solar energy
Solar and green energy technologies need to be even more widespread, but we have a challenge with conventional solar technologies.
Although conventional solar PV panels are efficient and durable and a good alternative to fossil fuels, the materials and production mean that the carbon footprint is relatively high, while they are limited in their installation options, e.g. due to rigid and non-transparent panels. In addition, the price must go down even further.
This is where CAPE comes in. Organic solar cells are in fact more sustainable and can be designed in colour, flexibility and also transparency. Moreover, they can be upscaled using roll-to-roll processes, which are very cost-effective.
CAPE is a brand-new research centre at The Mads Clausen Institute at SDU in Sønderborg, that will be delivering groundbreaking research in organic solar cells and development of energy storage and green hydrogen technologies.
SDU CAPE stands for Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics and Thin-film Energy Devices. You can find the centre's website here. You can also read more about Morten Madsen and what drives him as a researcher.
These are precisely the characteristics that CAPE's research is focusing on to spread the technology even more. And the technology is maturing with commercial panels available today. While organic solar cells are being further improved through research and development, all we need is for companies to invest in and push the technology even further.
- In this context, we also hope for greater visibility in the establishment of CAPE. We need to sharpen the centre’s identity and give industry and cooperation partners a clear interface, so we can get more people to invest in the technology," says Professor Horst-Günter Rubahn, head of NanoSYD and the Mads Clausen Institute and elaborates:
- At the same time, based on the group's ground-breaking research in thin-film technology, the group has joined in more and more national and international networks and R&D projects, which in turn has led to new applications.
The green P2X food chain
And it is precisely these new applications that are an important aspect of the establishment of CAPE. The centre is still researching organic solar cells and their upscaling, but is also working with companies on other green technologies, such as supercapacitors and green hydrogen extraction.
- We can build on the experience we have gained in developing and understanding new materials and thin-films. As an example, some of the processes we have used in the development of solar cells can also be used to split water to make green hydrogen, says Morten Madsen.
Already at present, CAPE has projects with companies to help with research and development as well as upscaling of supercapacitors and green hydrogen technology.
- In the long run, we can extract power with the solar cells and then either store it in supercapacitors or turn the power into green hydrogen. In this way, the technologies fit together and play directly into Power-to-X. We have a deep knowledge of the materials and processes, which is important in this context, says Morten Madsen.
Thin-films are produced by evaporating or coating organic, hybrid or metal oxide materials in very thin layers on a substrate of glass or flexible film.
For electronic components and energy technologies, semi-conductive and conductive materials are typically included in the films. The materials are evaporated in patterns and the layers together form the electronic components.
The electrical and optical properties of the components, possibly the solar cells, come as a result of the materials themselves, but also of the interaction between the molecules and the thin-films that make up the cell.