Michael Graetzel

Millennium Technology Prize


One of the world's foremost solar power experts, Professor Michael Grätzel developed remarkable solar cells, inspired by photosynthesis in plants, that could help the world to meet its growing energy demand in the future.

These dye-sensitised cells, which have become known as Grätzel cells, use special dyes that mimic the ability of chlorophyll in plants to capture light and turn it into electricity. They are made of inexpensive materials, flexible and can work even in low-light conditions.

The cells can even be integrated into liquids and gels, allowing them to be tinted and installed on window panels. They are now produced and sold commercially as lightweight cells to power portable electronic devices and as electricity-producing glass panels for solar power systems.

"In fact, they can also capture and convert diffuse light or ambient daylight into electricity. We just visited a company in Sweden that is producing the cells for use as ambient light-harvesting devices in eBook readers and other electronic devices. It is really amazing how well these systems work," said Professor Grätzel in a recent interview. They harvest ambient light more efficiently than GaAs, today's best photovoltaic.

In 2010, Finland awarded its biennial Millennium Technology Prize, considered the Nobel Prize of technology, to Professor Grätzel for his invention of the cells. It said: "One of mankind's greatest challenges is to find ways to replace the diminishing fossil fuel supply. The most obvious energy source is the sun, origin of almost all the energy found on Earth.

"Yet, we are still figuring out a cost-effective way of harnessing it... Professor Grätzel's cells show great promise as an inexpensive alternative to costly silicon solar cells, and as an attractive candidate for a new renewable energy source."

Even now, Professor Grätzel, who is a professor of physical chemistry at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, is helping to push the boundaries of the solar energy field. He is designing high-efficiency lead-halide perovskite solar cells that emerged from dye sensitized cells and could be the next great leap forward for the field. With nearly 23% their power conversion efficiency already exceeds the market leader polyscrystalline silicon and other conventional thin film photovoltaics.

He is also one of the three most highly-cited chemists in the world, having authored more than 1,500 publications that have received some 220,000 citations, as well as several books. He has pioneered research in energy and electron transfer reactions in mesoscopic systems, and their use for solar generation of electricity and fuels as well as for lithium ion batteries.

Over the years, Professor Grätzel has received an array of awards from across the world. Aside from the Millennium Technology Prize, these include the Global Energy Prize, the Albert Einstein World Award of Science, the Dutch Havinga Award and Medal, the International Prize of the Japanese Society of Coordination Chemistry, the 2000 European Grand Prix of Innovation, the Gutenberg Research Award and the Balzan Prize.