Innovative research from across the globe
ABOUT OUR RESEARCH
The SUNRISE network has united research teams specialising in renewable energy technology from across the UK and Global South. While our stated goal is to “revolutionise solar energy,” some of our researchers will be developing additional technologies necessary for a complete sustainable energy system suitable for a rural Indian community, such as energy storage and biomass fuels. Ultimately, this research will be applied in a series of building demonstrators (read more here).
While the research outputs are themselves important, of greater significance will be the capacity growth of our researchers and institutions. At SUNRISE we want to enable further advancements in sustainable technologies across the globe so that our legacy lasts long beyond the lifetime of the project.
Read on to find out more about our research areas: photovoltaics, energy storage and lighting, and clean fuel technologies.
A key goal of the SUNRISE researchers is to develop low-cost, efficient solar cells. Most photovoltaic (PV) systems are made up of several solar cells containing a semiconducting material such as silicon. Our investigators however will be focusing on printed perovskite and organic PV technologies, particularly flexible, lightweight systems. Because it is made using low-cost, earth abundant materials, organic PV is both cheaper to manufacture and install than conventional crystalline silicon PV — and more efficient.
High lab-scale device efficiencies have been achieved, and the goal now is to demonstrate high quantity, low cost fabrication based on continuous large-scale manufacturing techniques. Further challenges will be to modify materials and device architecture to enhance environmental stability and minimise toxicity.
Employing state of the art facilities available across our partner groups, they will apply a set of characterisation measurements to provide the relationship between material and device design, efficiency, operational environment, degree of encapsulation and stability.
In the past, the biggest barrier facing the deployment of PV systems in rural communities of developing countries has been the high up-front cost of installing them. Driven by substantial drops in manufacturing costs, the PV industry is gaining market penetration in relatively affluent, developed countries. But installation and maintenance costs remain high, primarily due to the physical form of silicon cells which are glass encapsulated and therefore fragile, inflexible, and relatively heavy. As a result, silicon PV remains out of reach of deprived communities.
However, BIPVCo have demonstrated that the integration of flexible PV into steel roofing products can result in a 30% reduction in installation costs. A major research objective therefore is to develop building-integrated, lightweight photovoltaics that are both affordable and can be easily deployed at site in rural villages. By applying these photovoltaics alongside other sustainable technologies to community buildings in off-grid Indian villages, clean energy will be made available to those who need it most.
ENERGY STORAGE AND LIGHTING
In order to complete the pathway from basic research to applicable products, the research teams will also address rural energy needs for electrical storage and low-cost lighting. The PV modules will need to be integrated into complete energy systems that match supply and demand via electricity storage. For this purpose, SUNRISE will explore electrochemical storage devices that take advantage of the low-cost photovoltaics. These devices can be used to store electricity during periods of lower usage then release it when needed.
Our investigators will also look into using the electricity generated by the solar panels to power lights. Installing energy efficient, low-cost lighting devices will drastically improve education and security in rural villages.
CLEAN FUEL TECHNOLOGIES
The final element to be considered for a rural energy system is technology for converting organic matter into fuel. Building upon expertise at Brunel University, biomass utilization will be based on the anaerobic digestion of agricultural waste. The SUNRISE researchers will concentrate on developing efficient processes for biomass conversion that can be integrated within the wider solar-powered system.
Based on the individual community’s needs, other technologies will also be considered. A further challenge to address in rural India is to improve access to clean water and sanitation. Methods for water decontamination will be explored, concentrating on solar-driven photocatalytic processes which exploit the low-cost membranes recently developed by Swansea University (see video below). We will also develop new strategies for sanitation through a linked programme with the Gates Foundation.