The Solar Research Laboratory was designed with a primary focus of doing research on materials used for solar cells and to address the improvement and engineering of defects in the same materials. Recent improvements in photovoltaic systems is pushing the limits of the material used for solar cells and new materials have emerged recently which show great promise but have yet to perform at their full potential. The aim of this lab is to research ways to make them more efficient.
At design stage, care was taken to ensure that the facility is useful for research on several materials used in solar cells – such as inorganic thin films (CdTe and CIGs), organic solar cells, perovskites and possibly graphene. Many of the tools are also useful for semiconductor materials research for the microchip industry and other material science research.
The project, makes use of pre-existing buildings in Marsaxlokk, and consists of 2 lab areas and another small building used as a lecture room. These were completely overhauled, and new pre-fabricated structures serve as offices. Some 7000m2 of surrounding grounds were completely refurbished.
Lab 1 consists of separate rooms comprising microscopes for sample preparation, solar-cell testing, a furnace room and a wet chemistry area.
Lab 2 is an open plan lab where most of the large tools are situated. These range from tools designed specifically for semiconductor material characterization, tools for thin film or surface characterization, and tools which have a wide variety of uses in characterizing materials.
There are also a full array of tools to prepare transmission electron microscopy (TEM) samples - a new capability at the University of Malta. It is envisaged that this can be complimented in the future by a transmission electron microscope as a shared facility between various Faculties/Institutes, while in the meantime prepared samples could be sent overseas to collaborating universities.
New staff members at the lab include a new academic member of staff, a Materials Systems Engineer, an Electrical Systems Engineer, and a Lab Officer, who are now specializing on the various tools. Over the past year, the Institute has received over 20 Erasmus and exchange graduate students who made use of the research facilities. Several UM students have also started M.Sc. and Ph.D. studies with the Institute over the past year. The Institute is also reaching out for collaboration with various Industry and Academic contacts in Malta and around the world, and looking at long term funding opportunities.