The Lab of...Photovoltaic Materials and Devices

Photo: Sam Rentmeester (Martijn van Sebille and Pavel Babal use AMIGO to fabricate solar cells.)
Photo: Sam Rentmeester (Martijn van Sebille and Pavel Babal use AMIGO to fabricate solar cells.)

Everyone is required to wear a full suit covering every inch of their body with only their eyes and nose peeking out. Everyone must check in and out. Welcome to the cleanroom where the Photovoltaic Materials and Devices (PVMD) group does their research.

Entering a cleanroom is a tedious process. Overalls, hoods, mouth covers, latex gloves and boots must all be donned before entering the sensitive area of manufacturing and scientific research. The idea is to keep the level of environmental pollutants low. In other words, keep the dust out. In the vast lab, loud buzzing fills the air and anonymous figures completely covered in white pad around the room.

Amongst several cubicles stands an imposing machine. Dubbed AMIGO, it is plasma enhanced chemical vapour depositor. Taped up near the machine is a score sheet, with a column for AMIGO and one for PVMD. AMIGO is winning. A bit of fun between man and machine? “A personal show of desperation,” laughs PhD candidate Pavel Babal of Slovakia, admitting that the machine had a few kinks to work out in the beginning.

Babal and colleague PhD candidate Martijn van Sebille of the Netherlands, use AMIGO to fabricate solar cells. The cleanroom, found in the DIMES building, is the only university lab in the Netherlands with the ability to make silicon-based solar cells from start to finish. The vacuum conditions within AMIGO allow it to pass the sample between six chambers each containing different materials in order to form the layers of the solar cell.

Van Sebille researches new materials for solar cells to improve them based on quantum dots. Babal works on the light management within stacked tandem cells, optimizing the layer between the two cells. “The future of solar cells is in more diverse products, such as wearable, flexible and portable solar cells,” says van Sebille. “And solar energy could provide a substantial amount of energy for the world. In the future, up to one third,” adds Babal.