Nanostructured solar cells for space

Title of the research project

TFQD - Thin Film light-trapping enhanced Quantum Dot photovoltaic cells: an enabling technology for high power-to-weight ratio space solar arrays.

Scientific area 

Renewable energy technologies; space solar cells; nanostructured semiconductors.


The TFQD project aims at demonstrating high-efficiency, flexible and lightweight solar cells through the integration in a thin-film design of nanostructured semiconductors and photonic gratings.

Description of the research project 

The sun is the only available energy source in most space applications, from telecommunications satellites to scientific probes. Therefore, the design of the satellite photovoltaic assembly requires a careful balance between its volume and mass, on the one hand, and the amount of energy that it must deliver to the spacecraft on the other hand. This trade-off considerably affects the space mission in terms of durability, payload and services.

The european project TFQD, involving six academic and industrial partners and coordinated by Federica Cappelluti of the Electronics and Telecommunications Department, aims at demonstrating high-efficiency, flexible and lightweight solar cells for the next-generation space solar arrays. The idea of TFQD is to increase the efficiency of a solar cell by using nanostructures to maximize the interaction between matter and electromagnetic waves transmitted from the sun.  Such approach makes a few micrometre thick layer of photosensitive material enough to achieve very high efficiency. Thus, the cell can be separated by its native substrate and mounted on a plastic or metallic flexible carrier. The result is a drastic improvement of the power-to-weight ratio and the mechanical flexibility with respect to today commercial space solar cells, which must be about fifteen times thicker to reach comparable efficiencies. The flexibility paves the way to new architectures - such as rollable or inflatable solar arrays, with very light deployment structures- at an affordable cost. The lower consumption of material and the use of cost-effective and scalable technologies ensure a cost per watt comparable if not lower than the today's technology.

Impact on society 

High-efficiency, lighter and more compact solar arrays will allow to increase the performance of telecommunication satellites. Moreover, the solar cells developed in TFQD are very promising for the terrestrial sector of renewable energy. The reduction in material consumption enabled by the thin-film approach will imply a greener approach to renewable energies with respect to conventional photovoltaic technologies. Ultimately, thanks to the high efficiency-to-cost figure, the project could pave the way to a new generation of low-cost concentrator photovoltaic sources with clear advantages in terms of cost but also of real estate occupation, a major issue in closely populated areas. Finally, a further important field of terrestrial exploitation is consumer electronics devices thanks to the light weight and flexibility.

Working group @Polito 

Federica Cappelluti, Project coordinator

Ariel Cedola, Post-doc researcher

Arastoo Khalili, PhD student

Farid Elserawy, PhD student

Tiziana Rolando, Administration

Giovanni Ghione, Full professor

Mariangela Gioannini, Associate professor

Giuseppe Vecchi, Full professor

National and International partners 

Thales Alenia Space S.p.A. Italy

Radboud University (The Netherlands) 

tf2 devices B.V (The Netherlands) 

Tampere University of Technology (Finland)

University College London (United Kingdom)

 TFQD project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 687253

  • Budget: 1.008.376 euro
  • Start date: 1/01/2016
  • End date: 31/12/2018