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Brussels, 16 November 2004

Sun and Earth as energy sources: European research on photovoltaics and biomass

Today, a press briefing organised by the European Commission in Uppsala (Sweden) will provide insights into research breakthroughs in photovoltaic and bio-energy technologies. Rising oil prices, environmental challenges and legislative changes have created an urgent need to develop renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels. Biomass from wood, agricultural residues and organic waste are the only renewable energy sources able to provide liquid fuels for transport on a large scale. Photovoltaic solar energy panels can be integrated into roofs and buildings to cover, in the long term, as much as 10%-60% of electricity demand in countries like Germany, Spain, Italy, UK, The Netherlands or Sweden.

“The EU’s transport sector is 97% dependent on oil, most of which needs to be imported. We should therefore make every effort to develop new and renewable sources of energy to reduce our external energy dependence, while protecting our environment”, says Commissioner for Research, Louis Michel. ”Solutions have to be found to convert new research findings into cost-effective alternatives suitable for every day use”.

The EU supports research and technological development in a range of renewable energy sources coming from photovoltaic and concentrated solar thermal technologies, including wind, biomass, ocean and geothermal sources.

Photovoltaic: Direct energy from the sun

The name comes from the principle in which “photons” (units of light) fall on a cell, generating a “voltage”. Two projects on photovoltaic electricity production will be presented in Uppsala:

An alternative to silicon (Project PROCIS): Researchers from Sweden, Germany, France and Switzerland have developed an efficient low-cost technology, using alternatives to silicon (CIS), to generate cheaper solar cell modules. This is the start of the next generation of cost-effective solar-module processing technology.

“Roll-to-Roll” photovoltaic modules (Project H-Alpha-Solar): Silicon remains a key material in photovoltaic technology – but how to make it more flexible and cheaper? Researchers from France, Portugal and the Netherlands collaborated to develop new thin film technology which paves the way towards cost effective mass production of silicon-based solar energy devices.

Biomass: the green energy of Earth

Europe has vast resources of wood, agricultural residues and organic waste, which can be transformed in ethanol or produce hydrogen for fuel cells. Both will decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. Two projects on bio-energy technology will be presented at this press briefing.
Biomass, not gasoline (Project TIME): If the Brazilians can fill their fuel tanks with a derivate of sugar cane and drive away, why doesn’t Europe use its biomass resources to do the same? A research team from Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands is trying to provide a solution. They focus on converting biomass into ethanol (using the cellulose of plants and trees) as a replacement for gasoline.
Biomass to Bio-electricity (Project BIOELECTRICITY): Is “biomass & hydrogen” the perfect combination for future stationary and transport use? A team of leading research institutes and fuel cell manufacturers, from France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and Italy, will explain how biomass is converted into hydrogen to produce electricity in a fuel cell.

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