Unlocking the potential of thin film energy products to support EU’s low carbon economy

Courtesy of NPL

The global market for low-carbon goods and services is projected to grow from £3.5 trillion in 2008 to just under £4.5 trillion in 2015. Much of this growth is driven by EU targets for the use of renewable energy and energy-efficient devices. Europe's shift to a low-carbon economy requires a wide range of advanced materials and technologies, including power electronics, solid state lighting, solar energy and energy-efficient windows. These applications are based on complex thin films that possess novel electronic and thermal properties not found in bulk materials.

Measurement challenge
The complexity of thin films means that there are technical challenges relating to their performance, durability and cost-effective manufacturing. The EMRP joint research project 'Traceable characterisation of thin-film materials for energy applications' (ENG53) will develop the measurement methods needed to characterise the structure of thin films and their novel properties. Models will also be developed to help interpret the measurements and relate them to product performance. This will accelerate innovation and improve quality control for energy technologies.

First impact
"The new measurement methods, instrumentation and reliable testing protocols developed within this project will help reduce time-to-market of innovative energy products by improving reliable quality control and reducing manufacturing costs", explains project coordinator Fernando Araujo de Castro (NPL, UK). The project has attracted supporters and collaborators. A Stakeholder Advisory Committee has been established and an e-forum is available to facilitate communication. The committee includes not only end-users such as instrument manufacturers and material producers as but also large stakeholder associations such as NMI (UK's trade association for semiconductors) and OpTecBB (German competence network for optical technologies and micro-system technology) to help maximise the project's impact to support a safe and sustainable low carbon economy in Europe. Engagement with standardisation groups has started. For example, there is a new standard on the measurement and analysis in spectroscopic ellipsometry under development based partially on the results from the project.

The ThinErgy consortium organised and delivered two successful Workshops. One meeting on Fundamental X-ray Parameters, in Lisbon, brought together key stakeholders in the area of X-ray spectroscopy and will help set directions for future requirements and research on fundamental atomic parameters. Another meeting on Advanced Optical Measurements, in Berlin, brought together key stakeholders in the area of optical measurement instrumentation as well as end users of optical metrology and provided a forum to disseminate project results and get feedback on future directions of work.So far in the project, in order to help validate measurement methods for elemental depth profiling, complex solar cell samples have been produced along with a procedure for a software tool to perform quantitative simulation. The project is also developing novel measurement methods and advanced modelling tools for spatially resolved optoelectrical characterisation to allow reliable defect detection. In addition, a literature study on state-of-the-art optical scatterometry and the design of a new system have been performed for large-area characterisation methods.

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