Fourth generation solar cell technology for high efficiency, large-area, low cost photovoltaics defined by Surrey academic

Wednesday 24 July 2013

At the opening keynote address at the 10th International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (NN13), held in Thessaloniki, Greece, Professor Ravi Silva from the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey outlined his definition for 4th generation (4G) solar cell technology to an enthusiastic and receptive audience filling the conference hall. 

4G Solar cells based on ‘inorganics-in-organics’, offers improved power conversion efficiency to current 3rd Generation (3G) Solar Cells, while maintaining their low cost base. The 4G solar cells defined in this talk combine - within a single layer - the low cost and flexibility of conducting polymer films (organic) with the lifetime stability of novel nanostructures (inorganic) (see figure), and leverage the properties of these new, hybrid active materials for performance beyond that of 3G devices. Incorporation of active inorganic nanomaterials improves the harvesting of solar energy and the manipulation of electrical charges within these 4G solar cells, enhancing efficiency and lifetime stability. 

Within his talk Prof Silva outlined the significant progress made in the solar industry, as in many parts of the world the cost of solar electricity now is price competitive with grid electricity, and emphasized that cost comparisons for the infrastructure should be made. 

1G Solar cells based on crystalline silicon and 2G polycrystalline silicon dominate the current market, with close to 90% of the entire generating capacity of solar electricity, which has now topped 100GW.1 There is a clear economic and social case at present for renewables, with solar electricity being the most benign and greenest of renewables. Prof. Silva comments that “this new generation of materials for solar cells have been truly engineered at the nanoscale. They are designed to maximise the harvesting of solar radiation, and thereby efficiently generate electricity.” 

The work on 4G Solar Cells proposed by Prof. Ravi Silva, published in the journal “Nanoscale” (DOI: 10.1039/C3NR02733C), reviews the previous generations of solar cell devices, before proposing a clear definition for the fourth generation of this upcoming technology. 

New 4G Solar cells are being developed in the recently commenced Euro 11.6M European Union FP7 SMARTONICS programme, led by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in which Surrey University is participating. The SMARTONICS project aims to develop smart machines, tools and processes for large area production of 4G solar cells engineered on the nanoscale, using roll-to-roll printing technology for high throughput and cost-efficient fabrication.

Professor Stergios Logothetidis, NN13 conference Chair and professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, said:"I am very glad that Prof. Silva introduced to the world the idea and concept of 4G Solar Cells, that is sponsored by the FP7 SMARTONICS Project, at his keynote talk at the 10th International Conference on Nanosciences & Nanotechnologies (NN13), during NANOTEXNOLOGY 2013, 6-13 July 2013, Thessaloniki, Greece ( We believe that 4G Solar Cells will be the technology for future PV energy sources, and people will be talking about this exclusive announcement at Thessaloniki".

Timeline of the four generations of solar cells, illustrating the changes from first generation (1G) bulk silicon to fourth generation (4G) hybrid solar cells. The associated nanomaterial components that comprise half of the 4G devices are shown in the top left of the picture. Reproduced with permission.



“‘Inorganics - in - Organics’: Recent Developments and Outlook for 4G Polymer Solar Cells” K. D. G. I. Jayawardena, L. J. Rozanski, C. A. Mills, M. J. Beliatis, N. A. Nismy, S. R. P. Silva, Nanoscale: DOI: 10.1039/C3NR02733C.

  1. Advanced Technology Institute, University of Surrey:
  2. NN13 conference:
  3. Smartonics FP7 project:
  4. Aristotle University, Thessaloniki:

Interview with Prof Ravi Silva

Dr Michail Beliatis on BBC Surrey (at 1:10:30)

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