School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

From left: Dr Danielle Roberts, Professor Delia North, Ms Nombuso Zondo (UKZN); Mr Andre Zitzke (SAS); Professor Albert Modi (UKZN); Professor Christine Franklin (University of Georgia, American Statistical Association Ambassador); Mr Lethani Ndwandwe, Professor James Allison (NWU); Dr Julia Keddie, Dr Humphrey Brydon, and Professor Renette Blignaut (UWC).

Thin Film Polymer Solar Cells as an Alternative Source of Renewable Energy Explored in Inaugural Lecture

Opportunities and Challenges of Thin-Film Polymer Solar Cells (TFPSC) in Contributing Towards the Realisation of Cheap Renewable Energy was the topic of an inaugural lecture presented by UKZN Physicist, Professor Genene Tessema Mola.

Conducting polymers have attracted tremendous research interest in the last three decades because of their potential application in the area of flexible photonic and electronic devices.

Mola explained that TFPSCs are a highly sought area of application with a view to producing lightweight and flexible solar panels.

‘The energy band structure of the donor and acceptor molecules in the preparation of polymers blend bulk-heterojunction (BHJ) solar absorber medium is of great importance to the overall performance of polymer solar cells,’ said Mola. ‘However, the limitation in tuning the energy band structures of fullerene molecules poses significant challenges to the progress in BHJ polymer solar cells.’

Mola said that in an attempt to cater for these challenges, the small molecules non-fullerene acceptors (NFAs) came into the TFPSC research space, raising the possibility of altering the optoelectronic properties of the polymer molecules.

‘The use of plasmon metal nanoparticles has also contributed to ease some of the limitations of polymer molecules,’ he said. ‘This brings polymer solar cells closer to the realisation of full-scale commercialisation.’

Mola is a full professor in the Discipline of Physics, based in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus.

He received his BScs and MSc Physics degrees from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and his PhD from the University of Bonn in Germany (2003). Mola has served on the faculty of several academic institutions including Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, and the National University of Lesotho. He joined UKZN in 2011.

His research area is Experimental Condensed Matter Physics and he has received various research grants. He has supervised over 41 postgraduate students, of whom 11 are PhD graduates. He is currently supervising five PhD, one MSc and one honours student.

Mola has published over 125 research articles in several highly reputable journals. He is a member of several professional societies such as the International Solar Energy Society (ISES), European Physical Society (EPS), Material Research Society (MRS), African Material Research Society (AMRS), as well as the Ethiopian Physical Society (EPS). He has served as Director for the Material Sciences Programme at Addis Ababa University, as Physics Department Chairman at Alemaya University, and as an Academic leader at UKZN.

Mola is an associate editor and editorial board member for several internationally renowned journals and has conducted a number of plenary talks and invited presentations at international conferences. He has reviewed a number of research articles in high-impact journals, many research proposals and over 20 PhD theses.

He was named as one of UKZN’s top five cited researchers in 2018 and was recognised as a top 30 productive researcher for 2019 and 2020. He has held an NRF C2 rating since 2019.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied