Simulating atoms for green energy

Project Leader: Dr Yun Wang

The ongoing effects of climate change and international targets to reduce emissions have led to a global focus on green materials.

To help Australia transition to a lower emissions economy, researchers using the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre are exploring new materials for green energy production.

Pawsey have been working with a Griffith University chemical sciences team to find new materials for solar cell and hydrogen production.

 
Core hours on Magnus
 
percent power conversion efficiency
 
percent of energy is renewable
Partner Institution: Griffith University System: Magnus Areas of science: ATOMIC PHYSICS, Chemistry, Energy and Resources

In 2020, an estimated 24 per cent of Australia’s total electricity generation came from renewables. Almost every Australian state and territory is planning to have the majority of its power generation through renewables within the next two decades.

Pawsey is helping Australia’s renewable transition by enabling research into more efficient green materials. By understanding the physical properties of different molecules, we can cut the cost of solar cells and hydrogen gas generation.

The team simulated the atomic action of quantum dots. These are man-made semiconductor crystals used in the world’s most efficient solar cells.

The aim of the simulation is to understand exactly how quantum dots behave when sunlight hits them.

Understanding the properties of quantum dots means simulating the probabilistic nature of nanoparticles, 1000 times smaller than the width of your fingernail. This requires enormous computing power. To solve this challenge, researchers are working with Pawsey supercomputing infrastructure and expertise.

We are providing over 1 million supercomputer core hours for their research into new green materials.

The team was connected to Pawsey across the country via the Australian Academic Research Network. This ongoing partnership allows national access to Pawsey’s supercomputers and was invaluable during Queensland’s COVID-19 lockdown.

The team was able to model the power conversion of quantum dots in solar cells, finding their power conversion efficiency was 16.6 per cent, a record in the quantum dot solar cell industry.

The team is now exploring safer, lead-free alternatives for solar cells. Currently, quantum dot solar cells need lead, a toxic metal that can leach into the environment, contaminating earth and water.

Meanwhile, platinum is used as a catalyst in hydrogen production. Its costs are at an all-time high, nearly $1300US an ounce. This contributes to the high cost of green energy.

The team’s quantum simulation techniques are finding low-cost, earth-abundant alternatives, like nickel. This could work as a cheaper catalyst when surrounded by a metal organic framework.

These catalysts could contribute to cheaper, more environmentally-friendly solar cells. It contributes to our roadmap on low emissions, set to exceed our emissions reduction target for 2030, using solar as a new energy generation source.

This research will also lead to cheaper hydrogen gas production. It contributes to our National Hydrogen Roadmap, providing cheaper hydrogen production for industries, while we focus on market activation.

The Australian National Hydrogen Strategy plans to make the country one of the top hydrogen producers to Asia by 2030.

New materials research is vital to building Australia’s green energy economy. Our industry partnerships empower researchers to perform this fundamental research, which goes on to make a huge impact in our energy market.

This research will also lead to cheaper hydrogen gas production. It contributes to our National Hydrogen Roadmap, providing cheaper hydrogen production for industries, while we focus on market activation.
Dr Yun Wang,
Project Leader.