The use of sunlight as the basis for renewable and sustainable energy has been acknowledged as one of the cornerstones for climate change mitigation. Efficient solar energy conversion will empower photovoltaics, photothermal and hydrogen photogeneration technologies as competitive candidates to replace fossil fuels and decrease greenhouse gas production in a close future. Recently, plasmonics has appeared as a promising pathway to enhance solar energy conversion. The strong light-matter interaction that takes place during excitation of plasmon resonances in metal nanostructures may lead to very efficient sunlight harvesting. Although several experiments have proven the benefits of plasmonics for solar energy conversion, they are based on scarce and expensive plasmonic materials (gold and silver) and often use technologically demanding nanostructuring methods.
The project "Plasmonic Alternative Materials for Solar Energy Conversion" (PAMSEC) aims to increase solar energy conversion efficiency by exploiting the plasmonic properties of widely available materials such as aluminium, copper and their alloys with silver and gold. It has been suggested that limitations of these materials for certain plasmonic applications such as waveguiding and sensing can be by-passed for solar energy conversion purposes. The materials will be nanostructured using thin film methods and post-deposition treatments that are suitable for low-cost and mass-production of future devices. The potential benefits and limitations of the materials will be investigated using electrodynamics and first-principle numerical simulations and verified by fabrication and characterization of samples in the laboratory. Optimization of material nanostructures will be carried out for specific solar energy conversion systems. In particular, we focus on water splitting and steam generation as representative examples of large and small scale solar energy conversion schemes. The successful achievement of the project goals will bring the potential of plasmonics beyond the demonstration level and set it on its path towards its implementation in actual solar light harvesting.