The need for highly efficient, cost effective and flexible renewable energy technology is more urgent than ever, but creating the next generation of photovoltaics is no small task.
It requires advanced computer simulation of potential new materials and devices, followed by extensive testing and characterisation in laboratories to find a winning formula.
Until now, the gap between the theorists exploring possibilities and the experimentalists charged with putting their calculations into practice has been a barrier to the rapid advancement of innovative and emerging solar energy generation mechanisms.
The ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science has tackled this problem head on, with the appointment of a Research Fellow dedicated to developing closer links between theory and the laboratory.
The challenge has been accepted by Dr Tharindu Warnakula, who works with Professor Jacek Jasieniak’s engineering group at Monash University, as well as the theoretical physics team led by Professor Salvy Russo at RMIT University.
Tharindu’s role involves using computers, including supercomputers, to simulate and assess the parameters of proposed new solar materials and devices, and gain insight into their likely behavior.
This information is then used to provide an understanding of the performance of test devices constructed by experimental engineers.
The work being undertaken by Tharindu and his colleagues throughout the Centre can help to guide the architecture of new devices, with a focus on 1D, 2D and 3D solar cell models, as well as providing a better theoretical basis for the effective development of near-infrared solar cells.
“There are some intricate details that need to be sorted out before we can hit 30% efficiency,” Tharindu said.
“We are trying to figure out the theoretical side first before asking [the engineers], ‘can you make this for us?’ It’s interesting and exciting.”
For Jacek, Tharindu’s early work is not only delivering important results, but has also opened several new areas of investigation to explore. He said: “Every time we meet I’m excited. Every time we meet, we come up with 10 more problems, because as is always the case in challenging areas, there are more questions than answers.”