The Technion has bright ideas to improve solar energy

Across the world, there is a growing acceptance that more needs to be done to fight climate change. In 2016, the Paris Agreement committed signatory countries to reducing their emissions to decrease the rate at which the planet’s temperature is rising.

The most significant way of achieving this is by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, but these are not always as effective as staples such as coal and oil. New research by Israeli scientists, however, might be about to revolutionise one of the key renewable energy sources – solar.

Solar power is one of the most well-known sources of renewable energy, with solar panels converting the light rays emitted by the sun into another form of power such as electricity. The potential for solar power to replace fossil fuels is significant – some sources estimate that the amount of sunlight that hits the Earth in just an hour and a half is enough to cover our global energy consumption for an entire year.
Israeli scientists have therefore taken the lead in increasing the efficiency of solar panels. Professor Avner Rothschild, who works at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, has lead researchers from his university working in partnership with Ben Gurion University and Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.

Between the three universities, they have developed a breakthrough in understanding semiconductors – a key component of how one form of solar panels work. Solar panels either use photovoltaic cells or photoelectrochemical cells. The latter can only generate energy during the day and require external batteries to store energy during the night.
Photovoltaic cells don’t require these batteries but use semiconductors instead. These semiconductors enable light energy to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, which are then stored as a separate fuel source for later. The most common material used as a semiconductor – hematite – is not as efficient as it could be though, leading to a loss of energy.

The scientists, led by Professor Rothschild from the Technion, have now developed a new technique for testing the efficiency of hematite and other semiconductor materials. This will in turn allow for the creation of more effective solar panels.

This breakthrough is only the latest success story to emerge from Technion – the Israel Institute of Technology. Since 1912, the academic institution has been at the forefront of spearheading Israel’s scientific endeavours. Israel today is the country with the highest percentage of scientists and engineers – and the majority of them studied at the Technion, home to three of Israel’s five science Nobel Laureates.

Alan Aziz, CEO of Technion UK, commented: “Reducing our use of fossil fuels is the single most important challenge our planet faces, and the answer has to be using the free energy that is all around us. Improving solar panels is just another bright idea to emerge from Technion scientists.”

About The Technion:

The Technion has earned a global reputation for its pioneering work in nanotechnology, life sciences, stem-cell technology, water management, sustainable energy, information technology, biotechnology, materials engineering and aerospace. It is also one of only five similar institutes worldwide that include a medical school, encouraging rapid progress in biotechnology, drug development, and stem-cell technology. As Israel’s centre for high-tech education and research, the Technion is central to the nation’s economic progress. As the premier institute of its kind in the region, Technion breakthroughs can benefit all the nations of the Middle East. As a worldclass research university, the Technion helps advance the frontiers of science and technology to benefit people around the world.