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Powering up solar partnerships

Solar cell

UD researchers are developing high-efficiency solar cells.

The University of Delaware, a pioneer in solar energy research, recently announced collaborations with two international solar programs.

Robert Opila, professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is leading UD's involvement in the United States–Australia Solar Energy Collaboration (USASEC) and the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) Engineering Research Center.

Opila and his team are partnering with two former UD colleagues—Allen Barnett, currently a professor in the School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering at the University of New South Wales, and Christiana Honsberg, a professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering at Arizona State University.

Formed to support collaborative research between the United States and Australia, the USASEC aims to fast-track cost reductions in capturing solar energy beyond what is achievable by either country on its own.

Other U.S. partners on the project with UD include two companies—AmberWave Inc. and Veeco Inc.—as well as Arizona State University, Yale University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The project team aims to cut solar energy costs by developing a high- voltage solar cell that will be 40 percent more efficient than conventional solar cells. Researchers and industry partners will combine three cutting- edge technologies to produce a new low-cost, high-efficiency solar cell.

The technology base combines a solar cell developed by University of New South Wales researchers with a novel high-performance, low-cost silicon-germanium (SiGe) solar cell grown on silicon and a new high-voltage gallium-arsenide-phosphide (GaAsP) solar cell grown as the top cell using an innovative set of processes developed by the U.S. partners.

As part of the collaboration, Ken Schmieder, a UD doctoral student in electrical engineering, recently participated in a one-semester exchange at the University of New South Wales, and Opila spent the spring 2013 semester there.

Funded jointly by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, the QESST Engineering Research Center focuses on developing technologies, educational programs, and analysis of policy and sustainability issues that promote the rapid use and advancement of photovoltaics.

UD researchers in collaboration with ASU's Solar Power Laboratory—directed by former UD faculty member Christiana Honsberg—will combine the rapid processing and low processing cost of organic solar cells with the high efficiency of silicon solar cells. The approach allows improved surface properties on silicon solar cells, in turn allowing thin, high-efficiency, low-cost devices. UD also brings to the project expertise in the design of energy policies on photovoltaic technology diffusion, market development and growth.

As part of the project, Nicole Kotulak, a doctoral student in electrical engineering at UD, participated in a one-semester exchange at Arizona State University, as well as a solar cell fabrication workshop this past January.

Other partners include the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of New Mexico.