June 14, 2021

How solar cell research is shaping the future of energy

A sunny future is ahead for renewable energy. Participants of Amsterdam Science Park’s Q&A event on 27 May learned about the potential of solar cell energy for electrochemistry and circular energy from researchers at AMOLF, the institute for physics of functional complex matter.

The online session

In this series of online meetups, Amsterdam Science Park provides a forum for anyone to ask leading experts their science and tech questions. Each event is related to sustainability, a key area of Amsterdam Science Park’s expertise.

By attending these free and accessible sessions, members of the public can meet the people behind some of the most innovative science and technology organisations in the Amsterdam Area. They can submit questions ahead of the event or during the discussion, and come away with fascinating insights about the developments at the park.

SustainaLab: a new space for open discussion

Leo le Duc, director of Science & Business at Amsterdam Science Park, began the talk with an introduction to the park and how it facilitates the exchange of knowledge between researchers, academia and companies. He also informed the group about the new SustainaLab project set to open next year. The SustainaLab will house lab facilities as well as collaborative community spaces for introducing people with the discoveries taking place. “It will create an atmosphere where everyone involved in sustainability can meet with each other and work together on new developments,” he said.

Erik Garnett

The main part of the event involved guest speaker Erik Garnett, who leads the Nanoscale Solar Cells group at AMOLF. The institute researches the nanostructures of solar cells to improve our understanding of light absorption, charge separation and transport. These factors could be instrumental in the way we use sustainable energy sources.

When asked whether it’s a problem that the Netherlands gets less sun than other locations, Garnett explained that solar resource only varies around the world by a factor of three. “There’s actually just a factor of one and a half [difference] between Barcelona or Rome and Amsterdam. This means that actually there’s a lot of sunlight, although it’s often cloudy,” he said.

Erik Garnett, Leader of the Nanoscale Solar Cells group at AMOLF “In the Netherlands, there’s actually enough sunlight hitting all of the greenhouses to fully power them ”

Consequently, the Netherlands could harness a lot more solar energy than it currently does. The next challenge is to transition to a solar energy grid that stores energy for periods when there is little or no sun, such as at night or during the winter. Garnett also spoke about opportunities to incorporate solar energy in agriculture. “Here in the Netherlands, there’s a huge amount of natural gas that’s burned to heat up greenhouses and produce food, even though there’s actually enough sunlight hitting all of the greenhouses to fully power them.”

The Q&A

Questions from the audience included whether AMOLF currently collaborates with the US on research projects. Garnett listed several projects with Stanford University and UC San Diego. Another asked what technology is needed to integrate solar energy concepts into buildings at the construction stage. AMOLF is continually developing ideas that integrate PV panels with other components. Transparent windows that convert energy are one solution, although high manufacturing costs remain a barrier.

Participants left the Q&A session with new insights about the energy transition and the collaborative sustainability projects happening at Amsterdam Science Park. Sign up for the next event to learn from experts and get a glimpse of future technologies.

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