ERC Starting Grant to revolutionize the efficiency, cost and stability of thin-film solar cells

Leuven (Belgium) — September 13, 2016 — Imec, Europe’s top nanoelectronics research center and Hasselt University, today announce that one of their scientists has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant. The grantee is Bart Vermang, researcher at IMOMEC, imec’s associated lab at the Hasselt University. He receives two million euros to apply techniques from silicon solar cell processing to revolutionize the design of thin-film solar cells, improving their efficiency, cost and stability. With these 5-year ERC Starting Grants, the European Research Council wants to back young and promising researchers, giving them a perspective to pursue ambitious fundamental research that may lead to breakthroughs, and encouraging them to pursue a career in research and set up their own labs and teams.

Bart Vermang’s field of study is thin-film solar technology, more specifically CIGS(e) solar cells. These combine flexible use with high efficiency, but they still have stability and reliability issues. Vermang proposes to revolutionize the design of CIGS(e) solar cells by implementing advanced surface techniques, introducing structures and layers also used in silicon solar technology. This includes adding innovative nanostructures to capture more light into the cell’s active layers. Other new techniques he envisages are inversion layer emitters, passivated contacts and surface passivation layers, which will make energy generation more efficient by avoiding that charge carriers recombine. In combination, these new techniques should lead to cells with conversion efficiencies between 23 and 26% with an improved stability and reliability. 

One of the main applications of thin-film solar cells will be building-integrated energy generation, where solar technology will be an integral part of building elements such as window panes, facade elements in all shapes, or curved roof covering. This is a key technology for Europe as regulations will require new buildings to become near energy neutral by 2020. The results of this research should directly lead to more efficient and long-lasting PV technology for buildings, and will thus contribute to reaching Europe’s ambitious climate goals.

Veronique de Halleux, Manager Public Funding at imec, comments: “With these Starting Grants, the European Research Council provides attractive long-term funding to excellent investigators to do groundbreaking research. This grant and the previous ones we were awarded show that imec is an excellent place to pursue such research, with the best infrastructure available and the pooled experience of our teams, many world-leading in their field. We therefore congratulate Bart Vermang and expect that his research will inspire other researchers at imec and elsewhere to set up ambitious research projects”.