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Solar solution for India scoops science prize

India ladies

Solar power technology that promises families living in villages across India a better life has won a £200,000 Newton Prize, Universities Minister Jo Johnson revealed today.

The life-changing advance is set to supply cheap, more sustainable electricity to thousands of rural homes where affordable power is not widely available.

Brunel University London’s Professor of Solar Energy Hari Upadhyaya led a UK team in the Newton-Bhabha APEX-II project.

“The impact of the project has been significant,” said Prof Upadhyaya at Brunel’s Institute of Materials and Manufacturing. “It is providing a technology that will be environmentally friendly, cost-effective, efficient, and stable for global need. The up-front cost of the manufacturing is much lower compared with other front-line technologies.”

APEX trophy

Prof Upadhyaya’s research team from the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Swansea and Edinburgh, plus Imperial College London, worked with the Indian Institute of Technology to iron out problems with perovskite solar cells (PSCs). These cells are cheap and efficient but couldn’t cope with levels of humidity and oxygen in the air in India.

The Newton Prize is a yearly £1m award for the best research or innovation that promotes economic development and social welfare in developing countries.

Announcing the winner at the National Science Centre in New Delhi, Jo Johnson said: “The Newton Prize demonstrates how the UK is working with partners to address important international issues. This complements the work we are undertaking as part of our upcoming Industrial Strategy to support our world-class research and innovation sector, helping them work collaboratively to address the great challenges of our time.”

On top of revolutionising the availability of low cost electricity, the APEX-II project has forged strong links between academics from both countries, producing several offshoot projects and patents. It has sparked interest from multinational manufacturers including Tata, Power on Demand, NSG Pilkington, and E4U-France. The Indian firm, Tata, known for its steel and car-making, is partnering with APEX to develop and make a stable PSC and take it through a license deal.

“The supply of clean, sustainable and affordable energy is a key issue in India and across the world,” said Prof Luiz Wrobel, director of Brunel’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace & Civil Engineering. “Prof Upadhyaya’s research could revolutionise the affordability of cheaper electricity that will improve the quality of life in villages across India.”


Reported by:

Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
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