Department of Chemistry and Materials Science


Multifunctional, high performance cellulose-based substrates for photovoltaics and optoelectronics (Tandem Forest Values Programme – Academy of Finland)
SUBSTAINABLE webpage, main image. Photo by Aalto University, Maija Vaara, Mithila Mohan

Full title of the project: Multifunctional, high performance cellulose-based substrates for photovoltaics and optoelectronics (Tandem Forest Values Programme – Academy of Finland)

More about the project:

The novelty of SUBSTAINABLE lies in developing multifunctional biomaterial composites that target highly ambitious increases both in efficiency and in durability of photovoltaic devices. By using cellulose nanocrystals, cellulose nanofibrils and holocellulose as matrices for multifunctional substrates, we combine the optical tunability of the cellulose-containing films to maximize the transmittance of visible light and the possibility to dope and covalently modify cellulosics for UV light down conversion and filtration. We target ambitious photocurrent increases (25% compared to a standard glass-based device) and management of the two main degradation pathways for photovoltaics, namely UV light and moisture exposure. We will develop novel structures and insight to overcome lifetime limitations to address these primary remaining barriers to commercialization of these cellulose films.

Besides harnessing major increases in performance, cellulose-based substrates offer an abundance of other key benefits, including the potential to reduce the embedded energy of photovoltaic devices and consequently energy payback time, as well as light-weight devices, flexibility required for roll-to-roll production, and easier disposal compared to standard devices. In the long term, the expected results of our project pave the way for a new high value solar energy product family for the Nordic forestry industry.

Even though the term of the project officially finished, the related research work is still active within the MMD group.​

Project team

SEM image and photo of pectin cryogel. Image by Aalto University, Fangxin Zou
SEM image and photo of pectin cryogel || Image: Aalto University, Fangxin Zou

Fangxin Zou, Postdoctoral Researcher

"Currently, I am working on a project about exploring new applications of pectin-based porous materials. 

The purpose of this work is to discover an opportunity to expand the industrial value of pectin with the increase of the commercial value of food industry by-products, and to enhance the sustainability of bio-based functional materials by establishing new circular economy approaches."

Yazan Al Haj, Doctoral Candidate

"My research work focuses on the development of flexible energy storage and conversion devices using bio-based resources. I currently work on the conversion of daily biowaste, animal bones and brewery residues into more valuable materials, such as porous carbon and cellulose nanocrystals. Porous carbon will be used as an electrode material, whereas cellulose nanocrystal will be used as a host matrix for the formation of the hydrogel electrolyte for flexible supercapacitors."

Conversion of biowaste into porous carbon and cellulose nanocrystals and their assembly into flexible supercapacitor. Image by Aalto University, Yazan Al Haj
Schematic figure for the conversion of biowaste into porous carbon (PC) and cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) and their assembly into flexible supercapacitor (PC//Al-CNC//PC) || Image: Aalto University, Yazan Al Haj

Hamidreza Daghigh Shirazi, Doctoral Candidate

"In my doctoral research, I am focusing on improving the lifetime and efficiency of solar cell substrates by means of organic light management layers. For this purpose, my work currently involves translation of leaf structures into functional hierarchical surfaces. As a result, tunable substrate surface with self-cleaning and icephobic properties can be made by combining, for instance, leaf replication, all-optical patterning of azopolymers, and coating with hydrophobic nanoparticles."

Delayed formation of ice on a hydrophobic/icephobic plant leaf. Photos by Aalto University, Hamidreza Daghigh Shirazi
Delayed formation of ice on a hydrophobic/icephobic plant leaf || Photos: Aalto University, Hamidreza Daghigh Shirazi


Optically transparent pectin/poly(methyl methacrylate) composite with thermal insulation and UV blocking properties based on anisotropic pectin cryogel

Fangxin Zou, Hailong Li, Yujiao Dong, Girish C. Tewari, Jaana Vapaavuori* 2022 Chemical Engineering Journal

Plant-Based Structures as an Opportunity to Engineer Optical Functions in Next-Generation Light Management

Joice Jaqueline Kaschuk, Yazan Al Haj, Orlando J. Rojas, Kati Miettunen, Tiffany Abitbol, Jaana Vapaavuori* 2022 Advanced Materials

Micro- and nanocelluloses from non-wood waste sources; processes and use in industrial applications

Julius Gröndahl, Kaisa Karisalmi, Jaana Vapaavuori* 2021 Soft Matter

Controllable Production of Ag/Zn and Ag Particles from Hydrometallurgical Zinc Solutions

Zulin Wang, Pyry-Mikko Hannula, Swarnalok De, Benjamin P. Wilson, Jaana Vapaavuori, Kirsi Yliniemi, Mari Lundström* 2021 ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering

Contact information:

Accountable project leader: Prof. Jaana Vapaavuori ([email protected])

Project researchers:
Fangxin Zou, Postdoctoral Researcher ([email protected])
Yazan Al Haj, Doctoral Candidate ([email protected])
Hamidreza Daghigh Shirazi, Doctoral Candidate ([email protected])

Project page on the Research Aalto portal: SUBSTAINABLE

The project is being implemented in collaboration with the research group of Prof. Kati Miettunen from the University of Turku (Finland) and Dr. Tiffany Abitbol from the RISE Research Institutes of Sweden.

Related content:

Multifunctional Materials Design

Group led by Professor Jaana Vapaavuori

MMD webpage main image. GIF image by Aalto University, Giulnara Launonen

Creating solar cells and glass from wood – or a billion tons of biowaste

Researchers map out how biomass from plants could replace unrenewable resources in optical applications


MMD FinnCERES: Energy

MMD projects funded by FinnCERES (theme Energy)

MMD FinnCERES projects main image. Photo by Aalto University / Mithila Mohan, Maija Vaara
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