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Dr Ian Forbes

Reader (Photovoltaics)

Department: Mathematics, Physics and Electrical Engineering

Dr Ian forbes is a Reader in the Department of Physics and Electrical Engineering, at Northumbria.

EE Ian Forbes Staffprofile 255I am a Reader in the Department of Physics and Electrical Engineering, at Northumbria. As an active researcher in the field of photovoltaics, my mission is to contribute to transforming the way the world generates, stores and consumes energy.  Photovoltaics (PV) offer a clean and sustainable method of harnessing the largest and least geographically restricted, inexhaustible renewable energy source, which has the potential to reduce energy usage and energy dependency. In particular this technology offers an opportunity for the developing world to create new systems for generating and distributing energy that are not constrained by the restrictions of grid systems used in developed economies.

I studied Materials Technology at the University of Surrey, which stimulated my interest in materials and their benefits to society. My placement year enabled me to gain a valuable insight into materials research in industry in the UK and Sweden. After graduating and working for GEC Optical Fibres, in London, I decided to develop my knowledge of optoelectronics and undertook a postgraduate course at Newcastle Polytechnic under a Department of Trade and Industry funded programme.

I was attracted to the elegance of photovoltaic technologies and was pleased to accept the offer to study for a PhD in indium phosphide (InP) based solar space cells by Newcastle Photovoltaic Applications Centre. Making InP based cells that were jointly the first to be flown in space was very satisfying and being part of a group that pioneered European thin film PV research strengthened my interest in this field.

I was the first in the UK to develop the 2-stage process of selenisation of sputtered metallic multilayer precursors and apply this technology to new sustainable materials. Sustainability includes the whole lifecycle, materials availability and production and the energy and carbon required for the whole PV system including installation and decommissioning.

I have developed interests in Thermophotovoltaics (TPV) – the conversion by PV cells of high temperature radiation, environmental impact assessment of thin film PV and contributed to promote the solar PV in national government and research council development of renewable energy strategies.

I collaborate widely with leading researchers and companies in the sector in pursuing my specialism. In the UK I have strong links with Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cranfield, Loughborough and Swansea and as well as major European research groups. I am particularly keen to strengthen the links academic researchers have with the leading companies in the industry.


Campus Address

Ellison Building

0191 227 3649


PhD, PgD, BSc(Hons)

Research Themes and Scholarly Interests

My interests include a broad range of photovoltaic technologies and issues and these include:

New & sustainable thin film materials/devices,

Research into photovoltaics cells based on Cu2ZnSn(S,Se)4, and chalcogenides of Cu-Bi and Cu-Sb and other sustainable and abundant materials; Alternative component layers (contacts, substrates and transparent conducting layers); 2-stage sputter processing and non-vacuum deposition, powders, printing and spraying technologies, rapid thermal treatment. Conventional and novel device structures. Materials security and global production.

Thermophotovoltaics (TPV),

Spectral control, TPV systems and applications, including recovery of high temperature waste heat and low-power portable systems.


Current – voltage characterisation of PV cells under standard and close spectral match simulators and of TPV devices, Spectral Response, electrical and optical techniques including (Van der Pauw, Hall, Seebeck and Nernst individually and combined in the 4C technique) photoluminescence and electroluminescence-imaging (PL-i/EL-i), FTIR. Materials characterisation and analysis.

Environmental Impact Assessment

Global warming potential (GWP) of processes and materials in thin film PV, including modules and system.

PV - Systems, Economics and Strategy

Sponsors and Collaborators

£300k funding for CZTS research from FP7 and £380k funding from EPSRC (Due to start: March 2014). Current project partners include the following Universities and Research Institutes:

Autonomous University Madrid, IREC (Barcelona), University of Luxembourg, Free University of Berlin, Helmholtz Centrum Berlin, Aix-Marseille University, EMPA (Switzerland) and Uppsala University (Sweden), Universities of Bath, Bristol, Loughborough and SPECIFIC (Swansea).

I also have on-going informal collaboration with Cranfield (Shrivenham), Liverpool, Southampton and Strathclyde.

Other collaboration


Past collaborators include; École Politechique Fedérale de Lausanne (EPFL), University of Patras, Imperial College London, Edinburgh University, Glyndwr University, Bangor University.

Current/Recent Projects

SUPERGEN PV21 – PV Materials for the 21st Century, EPSRC, April 2008 – Sept. 2012, Grant Holder (Northumbria) CoI,

KESTCELLS (Marie Curie ITN), EU- FP7, September 2012, Grant Holder (Northumbria)/CoI,

New Project, EPSRC, announced Nov. 2013, Grant Holder (Northumbria)/CoI

Other Project involvement

STAPP, EPSRC, Investigator, Jan 2011 – Dec 2014

PEPPER, EU-FP7, Researcher, Sept. 2010 – Aug 2013


British Science Festival 2013, Event Organiser

Teaching on ICARE – EU-China Renewable MSc

Key Publications

Martín, S., Zoppi, G. Aninat, R.,  Forbes, I. Guillén, C., “Study of the Al-grading effect in the crystallisation of chalcopyrite CuIn1−xAlxSe2 thin films”, Materials Chemistry and Physics”, 2013, 140, 1, 236–242

Maiello, P., Zoppi, G., Miles, R. W. Pearsall, N., Forbes, I., “Chalcogenisation of Cu–Sb metallic precursors into Cu3Sb(SexS1-x)3”, Solar Energy Materials & Solar Cells, 2013, 113, 186–194

Luckert, D. I. Hamilton, M. V. Yakushev, A. V. Karoti, A. V. Mudryi, M. Grossberg, J. Krustok, N. Beattie, G. Zoppi, M. Moynihan, I. Forbes and R. W. Martin, “Optical properties of high quality Cu2ZnSnSe4 thin films”, Applied Physics Letters, 2011, 99, 062104

Major, J. D., Proskuryakov, Y. Y., Durose, K., Zoppi G. and Forbes, I., “Control of grain size in sublimation-grown CdTe, and the improvement in performance of devices with systematically increased grain size”, Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, 2010, 94, 1107-1112.

Zoppi, G.; Forbes, I.; Miles, R. W.; Dale, P. J.; Scragg, J. J.; Peter, L. M. “Cu2ZnSnSe4 thin film solar cells produced by selenisation of magnetron sputtered precursors”, Progress in Photovoltaics”,  2009, 17, 315

Book Chapter

Ian Forbes and Laurence Peter. Materials for Photovoltaics in Materials for a Sustainable Future. pp 558 -591. Editors Trevor Letcher and Jane L. Scott. Royal Society of Chemistry 2012.

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Northumbria Research Link



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