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New Research Facility Launches to Develop Next-gen Advanced Functional Materials at Oxford

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A brand new national facility was officially opened last week at Oxford’s Department of Physics. The National Thin-Film Cluster Facility for Advanced Functional Materials (NTCF) provides state-of-the-art vacuum deposition capabilities – the ability to fabricate multilayer structures of incredibly thin materials of this exciting class of materials under highly controlled conditions. The facility will enable research in, and the development of, next generation advanced functional materials for a wide range of applications from functional coatings to optoelectronic devices.

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The bespoke cluster tool comprises several interconnected vacuum chambers – rather than existing isolated deposition chambers – allowing for the creation of multilayer structures using a range of different processes and combining materials that cannot done in the same vacuum chamber. The NTCF is key to the UK’s R&D capabilities in the development of next-generation materials and devices for application in energy, photonics and electronics.

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The NTCF will be used by researchers across the UK and the facility’s initial focus is on three material groups: perovskites for use in optoelectronics with applications ranging across solar energy, displays and electronic circuits; exploring the potential of organic semiconductors already used in the latest generation of displays for television screens and mobile phones; and research into metal oxides, the transparent electrode used in a variety of devices and with the potential to be used as transistors to drive a new generation of displays.

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‘One area in particular where the NTCF could have a transformational impact is energy; new materials, from perovskites to organic semiconductors, have the potential to rival and then exceed conventional inorganic semiconductors opening new doors for photovoltaic, light emission, and photonic technologies’ said Henry Snaith, NTCF co-director and Binks Professor of Renewable Energy.

As an example, the facility will help advance Professor Snaith’s work to develop high-efficiency multi-layer solar photovoltaic panels. This technology involves applying silicon solar cell panels with a thin layer of perovskite, a crystalline material with excellent semiconductor properties. Already, this can boost the conversion efficiency of solar panels from 20-22% to around 30%, but the new facility will enable potentially more efficient designs and combinations to be explored.

The facility will equally support Professor Riede’s research into solar cells made from vacuum deposited organic semiconductors. Given their mechanical flexibility and light weight, the applications for such organic solar cells have great transformative potential. Furthermore, they are made from earth-abundant materials and already now require only ~30% of the material and energy input of silicon solar panels, leading to a much lower environmental footprint.

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