René Janssen wins Spinoza Prize

Professor René Janssen will receive a Spinoza Prize, the highest Dutch award in science. This was announced by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) today, 12 June. NWO praises Janssen, professor of Molecular Materials and Nanosystems, as ‘world leader in the field of organic solar cells’.

NWO yearly awards three or four NWO Spinoza Prizes to scientists working in the Netherlands who are regarded as world leaders in their field. The winners each receive 2.5 million euros, which they can use it for scientific research of their own choice. This year there are four winners. Their names were announced at the Bessensap event today, a major science communication congress in The Hague.

Inspiring
“René Janssen has found a unique way to combine chemistry, physics and fundamental research with applied research”, says the NWO declaration. “As a scientist, Janssen is motivated by one of the great societal challenges: the global transition to sustainable energy sources. His approach is unique in science, and Janssen has succeeded through his ideas in inspiring many international researchers. Through his research into materials and new technologies, polymer solar cells have developed from a scientific novelty into a potential future energy source.”

Dream
The TU/e professor regards this prize as a great honor. “It comes as a big surprise to me, and it’s the kind of award that you normally don’t even dare to dream about. I regard it a huge honor, not just for myself but most of all for our whole group. The results we achieve are due to the tremendous efforts of all students, PhD candidates, postdocs and permanent staff, all of whom are working together to open up new horizons, day in and day out.”

Perovskite
Janssen already has some ideas on how to use the prize of 2.5 million euros. “We’re free in the way we use prize, which means we can try out new and special ideas. Of course we’re continuing with our research into organic solar cells and ‘solar fuels’, together with the DIFFER research institute. As well as that, there is at present tremendous worldwide interest in the material perovskite, which holds the promise of very high solar cell efficiencies. We intend to further strengthen our research at TU/e in this field.”

World top
TU/e Rector Magnificus Frank Baaijens is “unbelievably proud” with the Spinoza Prize. “It’s been known for a long time that René Janssen is among the absolute world top in research into organic solar cells. And it’s great to see that NWO now recognizes this with the Spinoza Prize. At TU/e we’re incredibly proud to have a researcher of this stature together with his group in our organization, with the breakthrough work that they are carrying out in the field of sustainable energy.”

Physics of light
Organic solar cells are made on the basis of plastic foil, in contrast to traditional solar cells that are made on a substrate of silicon. The advantage of plastic solar cells is that the material and the production are cheaper, and that they are flexible. But the disadvantage is their lower efficiency. However prof. Janssen is working on increasing their efficiency. His work focuses on the understanding and modifying the subtle interactions between the chemical and electronic structures, the physics of light, charge transport and morphology (the study of shapes and structures) on a nanoscale. This makes it possible to convert photons, or ‘light particles’, into electricity in the most efficient possible way. In this process it is vitally important to reduce the energy losses to the absolute minimum at every stage. In general, it is expected that it will be possible to produce large, flexible and lightweight polymer solar cells at low cost in the foreseeable future.

Solar fuels
Optimization is also very important for the storage of solar energy. A highly promising opportunity is the storage of energy from solar cells in chemical compounds at the molecular level. In 2013 Janssen received an ERC Advanced Grant from the EU for this work. Besides he will lead a new joint TU/e-DIFFER (Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research) research group on solar fuels. This group focuses on storage and transportation of energy by means of efficient conversion of clean energy into fuels. The research group is part of the close collaboration on energy research, which was detailed in a contract between TU/e and the Foundation FOM, of which DIFFER is part, on April 7th.