Fool’s gold as a solar material?

520-Fools-Gold-solar-PV-materialAs the installation of photovoltaic solar cells continues to accelerate, scientists are looking for inexpensive materials beyond the traditional silicon that can efficiently convert sunlight into electricity.

Theoretically, iron pyrite—a cheap compound that makes a common mineral known as fool’s gold—could do the job, but when it works at all, the conversion efficiency remains frustratingly low. Now, a Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison research team explains why that is, in a discovery that suggests how improvements in this promising material could lead to inexpensive yet efficient solar cells.

“We think we now understand why pyrite hasn’t worked,” says chemistry Prof. Song Jin, “and that provides the hope, based on our understanding, for figuring out how to make it work. This could be even more difficult, but exciting and rewarding.”

Although most commercial photovoltaic cells nowadays are based on silicon, the light-collecting film must be relatively thick and pure, which makes the production process costly and energy-intensive, says Jin.

A film of iron pyrite—a compound built of iron and sulfur atoms—could be 1,000 times thinner than silicon and still efficiently absorb sunlight.

Like silicon, iron and sulfur are common elements in the Earth’s crust, so solar cells made of iron pyrite could have a significant material cost advantage in large scale deployment. In fact, previous research that balanced factors like theoretical efficiency, materials availability and extraction cost put iron pyrite at the top of the list of candidates for low-cost and large-scale photovoltaic materials.

In the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Jin and first author Miguel Cabán-Acevedo, a chemistry graduate student, together with other scientists at UW-Madison, explain how they identified defects in the body of the iron pyrite material as the source of inefficiency. The research was supported by the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

In a photovoltaic material, absorption of sunlight creates oppositely charged carriers, called electrons and holes, that must be separated in order for sunlight to be converted to electricity. The efficiency of a photovoltaic solar cell can be judged by three parameters, Jin says, and the solar cells made of pyrite were almost totally deficient in one: voltage. Without a voltage, a cell cannot produce any power, he points out. Yet based on its essential parameters, iron pyrite should be a reasonably good solar material. “We wanted to know, why is the photovoltage so low,” Jin says.

“We did a lot of different measurements and studies to look comprehensively at the problem,” says Cabán-Acevedo, “and we think we have fully and definitively shown why pyrite, as a solar material, has not been efficient.”

In exploring why pyrite was practically unable to make photovoltaic electricity, many researchers have looked at the surface of the crystals, but Cabán-Acevedo and Jin also looked inside. “If you think of this as a body, many have focused on the skin, but we also looked at the heart,” says Cabán-Acevedo, “and we think the major problems lie inside, although there are also problems on the skin.”

The internal problems, called “bulk defects,” occur when a sulfur atom is missing from its expected place in the crystal structure. These defects are intrinsic to the material properties of iron pyrite and are present even in ultra-pure crystals. Their presence in large numbers eventually leads to the lack of photovoltage for solar cells based on iron pyrite crystals.

Science advances by comprehending causes, Jin says. “Our message is that now we understand why pyrite does not work. If you don’t understand something, you must try to solve it by trial and error. Once you understand it, you can use rational design to overcome the obstacle. You don’t have to stumble around in the dark.”


Your own energy ‘island’? Microgrid could standardize small, self-sustaining electric grids

520-CE_microgridWhen Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher Yan Xu talks about “islanding,” or isolating, from the grid, she’s discussing a fundamental benefit of microgrids—small systems powered by renewables and energy storage devices. The benefit is that microgrids can disconnect from larger utility grids and continue to provide power locally.

“If the microgrid is always connected to the main grid, what’s the point?” Xu said. “If something goes wrong with the main grid, like a dramatic drop in voltage, for example, you may want to disconnect.”

Microgrids are designed to not only continue power to local units such as neighborhoods, hospitals or industrial parks but also improve energy efficiency and reduce cost when connected to the main grid. Researchers predict an energy future more like a marketplace in which utility customers with access to solar panels, battery packs, plug-in vehicles and other sources of distributed energy can compare energy prices, switch on the best deals and even sell back unused power to utility companies.

However, before interested consumers can plug into their own energy islands, researchers at facilities such as ORNL’s Distributed Energy Control and Communication (DECC) lab need to develop tools for controlling a reliable, safe and efficient microgrid.

To simulate real scenarios where energy would be used on a microgrid, DECC houses a functional microgrid with a total generation capacity of approximately 250 kilowatts (kW) that seamlessly switches on and off the main grid.

This grid includes an energy storage system that generates 25kW of power and uses 50kW•hours of energy built from second-use electric vehicle batteries, a 50kW- and a 13.5 kW-solar system and two smart inverters that serve as the grid interfaces for the distributed energy emulators. Programmable load banks that mimic equipment consuming energy on the grid can provide sudden large load changes and second-by-second energy profiles.

“A microgrid should run an automated optimization frequently, about every five to 10 minutes,” Xu said.

To optimize grid operations, microgrid generators, power flow controllers, switches and loads must be outfitted with sensors and communication links that can provide real-time information to a central communications control.

“Microgrids are not widely deployed yet. Today, functional microgrids are in the R&D phase, and their communications are not standardized,” Xu said. “We want to standardize microgrid communications and systems so they are compatible with the main grid and each other.”

Now two years into the inception of ORNL’s microgrid project—“Complete System-Level Efficient and Interoperable Solution for Microgrid Integrated Controls,” or CSEISMIC—the microgrid test bed at DECC is functional and employs an algorithm developed at ORNL that directs automatic transition on and off ORNL’s main grid.

Xu said the next year will focus on getting the energy management system (EMS) running. The EMS will drive optimization by allowing microgrid components to fluctuate operation based on parameters such as demand and cost.

“The EMS may, for instance, tell the PVs [solar cells] how much power to generate for the next five to 10 minutes based on the time of day and energy demand,” Xu said.

The CSEISMIC team has long-term goals of partnering with industries to conduct field demonstrations of standardized grid prototypes.

“As soon as microgrids are standardized and easy to integrate into the main grid,” Xu said, “we’ll start seeing them in areas with a high penetration of renewables and high energy prices.”

This project is funded by DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability Smart Grid Program.

New “Tinker Toy” Test Could Send Solar Energy Costs Into Free-Fall

Use of MOF in a dye sensitized solar cell (courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories).
Use of MOF in a dye sensitized solar cell (courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories).

Solar energy costs are already dropping faster than you can say “solar energy costs are dropping,” and along comes a new development that could accelerate the trend even more. The project, out of Sandia National Laboratories in partnership with the University of Colorado-Boulder, aims at working around the efficiency limitations of dye-sensitized solar cells.

The idea is to combine the dye-based technology with another material that researchers compare to that icon of childhood play, the Tinker Toy. Dye-sensitized solar cells lend themselves to a low cost manufacturing process, so breaking through the efficiency wall lets you have your solar cake and eat it, too.

Wells Fargo launches “Innovation Incubator” program

NRELWells Fargo last week launched an “Innovation Incubator”program (IN2), a $10 million environmental grant program for clean technology startups.

IN2 was announced 28 October at the NREL Industry Growth Forum in Denver and is the first of its kind in the banking industry, according to Wells Fargo. Under the program, clean-tech startups will be identified and recommended by Wells Fargo’s network of technical, financial and industry advisers at laboratories and research facilities across the country.

The first of three rounds of selected companies will be announced early next year, and will receive up to $250,000 for business development needs, research and testing support at NREL’s Golden, CO facility, along with “coaching and mentorship” from Wells Fargo. An independent advisory board of nearly a dozen industry leaders representing the commercial building sector, academia, community organizations, successful entrepreneurs and technical experts will select the final companies to be included in the IN2 program.

New solar power material converts 90 percent of captured light into heat


A multidisciplinary engineering team at the University of California, San Diego developed a new nanoparticle-based material for concentrating solar power plants designed to absorb and convert to heat more than 90 percent of the sunlight it captures. The new material can also withstand temperatures greater than 700 degrees Celsius and survive many years outdoors in spite of exposure to air and humidity. Their work, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program, was published recently in two separate articles in the journal Nano Energy.

By contrast, current solar absorber material functions at lower temperatures and needs to be overhauled almost every year for high temperature operations

“We wanted to create a material that absorbs sunlight that doesn’t let any of it escape. We want the black hole of sunlight,” said Sungho Jin, a professor in the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Jin, along with professor Zhaowei Liu of the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering professor Renkun Chen, developed the Silicon boride-coated nanoshell material. They are all experts in functional materials engineering.

The novel material features a “multiscale” surface created by using particles of many sizes ranging from 10 nanometers to 10 micrometers. The multiscale structures can trap and absorb light which contributes to the material’s high efficiency when operated at higher temperatures.

Concentrating solar power (CSP) is an emerging alternative clean energy market that produces approximately 3.5 gigawatts worth of power at power plants around the globe — enough to power more than 2 million homes, with additional construction in progress to provide as much as 20 gigawatts of power in coming years. One of the technology’s attractions is that it can be used to retrofit existing power plants that use coal or fossil fuels because it uses the same process to generate electricity from steam.

Traditional power plants burn coal or fossil fuels to create heat that evaporates water into steam. The steam turns a giant turbine that generates electricity from spinning magnets and conductor wire coils. CSP power plants create the steam needed to turn the turbine by using sunlight to heat molten salt. The molten salt can also be stored in thermal storage tanks overnight where it can continue to generate steam and electricity, 24 hours a day if desired, a significant advantage over photovoltaic systems that stop producing energy with the sunset.

One of the most common types of CSP systems uses more than 100,000 reflective mirrors to aim sunlight at a tower that has been spray painted with a light absorbing black paint material. The material is designed to maximize sun light absorption and minimize the loss of light that would naturally emit from the surface in the form of infrared radiation.

The UC San Diego team’s combined expertise was used to develop, optimize and characterize a new material for this type of system over the past three years. Researchers included a group of UC San Diego graduate students in materials science and engineering, Justin Taekyoung Kim, Bryan VanSaders, and Jaeyun Moon, who recently joined the faculty of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The synthesized nanoshell material is spray-painted in Chen’s lab onto a metal substrate for thermal and mechanical testing. The material’s ability to absorb sunlight is measured in Liu’s optics laboratory using a unique set of instruments that takes spectral measurements from visible light to infrared.

Current CSP plants are shut down about once a year to chip off the degraded sunlight absorbing material and reapply a new coating, which means no power generation while a replacement coating is applied and cured. That is why DOE’s SunShot program challenged and supported UC San Diego research teams to come up with a material with a substantially longer life cycle, in addition to the higher operating temperature for enhanced energy conversion efficiency. The UC San Diego research team is aiming for many years of usage life, a feat they believe they are close to achieving.

Modeled after President Kennedy’s moon landing program that inspired widespread interest in science and space exploration, then-Energy Secretary Steven P. Chu launched the Sunshot Initiative in 2010 with the goal of making solar power cost competitive with other means of producing electricity by 2020.

Cheaper silicon means cheaper solar cells

silicon-core-520Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have pioneered a new approach to manufacturing solar cells that requires less silicon and can accommodate silicon with more impurities than is currently the standard. Those changes mean that solar cells can be made much more cheaply than at present.

A new method of producing solar cells could reduce the amount of silicon per unit area by 90 per cent compared to the current standard. With the high prices of pure silicon, this will help cut the cost of solar power.

“We’re using less expensive raw materials in smaller amounts, we have production fewer steps and have potentially lower total energy consumption,” PhD candidate Fredrik Martinsen and Professor Ursula Gibson of the Department of Physics at NTNU explain.

They recently published their technique in Scientific Reports.

Their processing technique allows them to make solar cells from silicon that is 1000 times less pure, and thus less expensive, than the current industry standard.

Glass fibres with a silicon core

The researchers’ solar cells are composed of silicon fibres coated in glass. A silicon core is inserted into a glass tube about 30 mm in diameter. This is then heated up so that the silicon melts and the glass softens. The tube is stretched out into a thin glass fibre filled with silicon. The process of heating and stretching makes the fibre up to 100 times thinner.

This is the widely accepted industrial method used to produce fibre optic cables. But researchers at the Department of Physics at NTNU, working with collaborators at Clemson University in the USA, are the first to use silicon-core fibres made this way in solar cells. The active part of these solar cells is the silicon core, which has a diameter of about 100 micrometres.

Lower energy consumption

This production method also enabled them to solve another problem: traditional solar cells require very pure silicon. The process of manufacturing pure silicon wafers is laborious, energy intensive and expensive. “We can use relatively dirty silicon, and the purification occurs naturally as part of the process of melting and re-solidifying in fibre form”, says Gibson. “This means that you save energy, and several steps in production.”

It is estimated to take roughly one-third of the energy to produce solar cells with this method compared to the traditional approach of producing silicon wafers.

Gibson has worked for several years to combine purification and solar cell production. She got the idea for the project after reading an article on silicon core fibres by John Ballato at Clemson University in South Carolina, who is at the forefront of research in fibre optics materials development.

“I saw that the method he described could also be used for solar cells,” she said, “and we developed a key technique at NTNU that improved the fibre quality.” Gibson and her research group began to work with Ballato, who is a co-author of the article published in Scientific Reports.

Silicon rods

The new type of solar cells are based on the vertical rod radial-junction design, which is a relatively new approach. The design uses less pure silicon that a planar cell, Martinsen explains, and then launches into a crash-course on the inner workings of a solar cell: photons of different wavelengths are absorbed in different layers of the silicon wafer. They generate free charges, or charge carriers, which are then separated to provide electrical energy.

These charges need to be close to the electrodes and close to the p-n junction to be captured. The p-n junction is the active region in the device – where different types of charge carriers are separated. If the charge is not captured, the energy dissipates and goes to heating up the solar cell itself.

In a traditional solar cell, the journey from where a charge is generated to the surface can be quite long. This means that highly purified silicon is required. But with silicon fibres, there is a junction all the way around the fibre. The distance from where the charge is generated to where it is captured is quite short. Charge carriers can be captured effectively, even when using impure silicon.

“The vertical rod design still isn’t common in commercial use. Currently, silicon rods are produced using advanced and expensive nano-techniques that are difficult to scale,” Martinsen says. “But we’re using a tried and true industrial bulk processes, which can make production a lot cheaper.”


The power produced by prototype cells is not yet up to commercial standards. Contemporary solar cells have an efficiency of about 18 per cent. The prototype created by NTNU researchers has only reached about 3.6 per cent. Gibson and Martinsen still have faith in the potential of this production method, and are working to improve the design and fabrication processes.

“These are the first solar cells produced this way, using impure silicon. So it isn’t surprising that the power output isn’t very high,” says Martinsen. “It’s a little unfair to compare our method to conventional solar cells, which have had 40 years to fine-tune the entire production process. We’ve had a steep learning curve, but not all the steps of our process are fully developed yet. We’re the first people to show that you can make solar cells this way. The results are published, and the process is set in motion.”

The next step is to refine production, make larger and more effective solar cells, and couple multiple cells together.

What Is SolarTAC?

SoThe Solar Technology Acceleration Center (SolarTAC) is the largest multi-user outdoor research, testing, development and demonstration facility in the world. SolarTAC offers its members the opportunity to perform proprietary and collaborative research, development and demonstration activities that accelerate solar technology.

“In a rapidly expanding solar market, there exists a need to fine tune early commercial and near-commercial technologies before deploying them in the field by testing for reliability and optimized performance, and to secure financial backing,” says Dustin Smith, SolarTAC executive director. “SolarTAC was developed to provide a real-world testing environment that can fulfill these requirements and take emerging technologies to the next level.”

The facility’s location in Aurora, Colo. provides more than 320 days of sun each year, which makes it ideal for solar research (especially with its close proximity to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Denver International Airport).

The concept for a solar technology testing facility began in 2007 with Xcel Energy. The public utility, along with other founding members SunEdison and Abengoa Solar, provided the initial funding, while the City of Aurora provided 74 acres and an accelerated permitting process to expedite project development at the site. Non-UL listed technologies can be permitted in six weeks or less. SolarTAC is managed and operated by Kansas-based MRIGlobal, an independent research and development organization that delivers global solutions in energy, health and defense.

Membership is open to all of the solar industry including electric utilities, solar technology developers and solar equipment suppliers. Four levels of membership are available, opening participation to all companies. See the chart above for membership levels.

“Members are performing grid integration studies, project development, O&M research, as well as long-term reliability and degradation; PV, CPV and CSP technologies; and balance of system equipment,” says Smith.

A variety of projects are underway or in the planning stages at SolarTAC, including a facility to test thermal-storage media, side-by-side evaluations of PV system performance and a test of 2-axis tracking and optics for a CPV system and utility scale batteries. Additional projects include long-term reliability testing of a CPV system, the development of a solar thermal trough system and evaluation of different CPV systems. SPW

Organic Solar Cells + Flexible Glass


Organic solar modules have advantages over silicon solar cells. However, one critical problem is their shorter operating life. Researchers are working on a promising solution: they are using flexible glass as a carrier substrate that better protects the components.

This approach is already being employed in electronic devices to some extent today: organic photovoltaics (OPVs) are embedded in film. These OPVs are a promising alternative to silicon-based solar cells. The materials can also be processed at atmospheric pressure. However, the main advantage is the modules can be manufactured using printing technology—this is faster and more efficient that the involved processes necessary for fabrication of inorganic components.

A flexible type of substrate material is necessary for fabrication that uses a printing process. Polymer films that have certain serious disadvantages have been employed up to now. The films are somewhat permeable to humidity and oxygen. Both of these attack the sensitive solar modules and significantly reduce their operating life. Up to now, substrates with barrier layers have protected the OPV modules, depending on the application. For higher processing temperatures and longer operating life, different carrier substrates must be used.

Researchers of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam, Germany, are working with a new carrier material at present. They are embedding the solar modules in a thin layer of glass. “Glass is not only the ideal encapsulating material, it also tolerates process temperatures of up to 400 degrees,” explains Danny Krautz, project manager in the Functional Materials and Components research section at IAP.

A specialized glass from Corning Inc. is being employed in the research work. Thanks to its special physical properties, layers can be made that are only 100 micrometers thick. That corresponds roughly to the thickness of a sheet of paper and has nothing to do with the type used to make drinking glasses. The special glass is not only fracture-resistant and extremely strong, it is so flexible that it can be gently bowed even in its solid form. The researchers in Potsdam in cooperation with their partner Corning have already created the first working OPVs with this material by processing stacks sheet-by-sheet.

The goal is to fabricate these modules in rolls as well. The carrier substrate will be wound on a roll in this case, similar to how newspapers are printed. An empty roll is positioned opposite it. The photoactive layers and electrodes are printed in several steps between the two rolls. Large surfaces can be manufactured effectively in series using this fabrication technology. The team from IAP has already begun a first test of how the flexible glass could be processed in this way. “We were immediately successful on our first run in producing homogenous layers on smaller substrate dimensions,” according to the scientist.

The technology needs to be modified at many points for the process to meet the demands of industrial applications—and the Potsdam team is already working on these. Long-lived, robust, high-performance OPVs can be fabricated with this technology for use in a wide range of applications—from tiny solar cells in mobile phones to large-scale photovoltaic modules.

Original Article on The Daily Fusion

Silicon Supercapacitor Built by Researchers


Researchers at the Vanderbilt University in Nashville propose a novel silicon supercapacitor design. Such supercapacitor can be, theoretically, integrated into a silicon chip, opening some interesting options for energy storage.

Batteries effectively store energy but do not deliver power efficiently because the charged carriers move slowly through the solid battery material. Capacitors, which store energy at the surface of a material, generally have low storage capabilities. Supercapacitors bridge the gap between conventional capacitors and rechargeable batteries. Supercapacitors currently cannot store as much energy as batteries, but are able to be charged and discharged much quicker. They also are distinguished from batteries by a much longer lifetime.

“If you ask experts about making a supercapacitor out of silicon, they will tell you it is a crazy idea,” said Cary Pint, the assistant professor of mechanical engineering who headed the development. “But we’ve found an easy way to do it.”

According to the abstract of a paper published in Scientific Reports (see footnote), silicon materials remain unused for supercapacitors due to extreme reactivity of silicon with electrolytes. However, doped silicon materials boast a low mass density, excellent conductivity, a controllably etched nanoporous structure, and combined earth abundance and technological presence appealing to diverse energy storage frameworks.

Silicon supercapacitor research group (left to right): Landon Oakes, Shahana Chatterji, Andrew Westover and Cary Pint.

Silicon supercapacitor research group (left to right): Landon Oakes, Shahana Chatterji, Andrew Westover and Cary Pint. (Credit: Joe Howell / Vanderbilt)

A Vanderbilt University article says that research to improve the energy density of supercapacitors has focused on graphene-based supercapacitors or some other carbon-based nanomaterials. Because these devices store electrical charge on the surface of their electrodes, the way to increase their energy density is to increase the electrodes’ surface area, which means making surfaces filled with nanoscale ridges and pores. An opposite approach would be to use an already structured material like silicon.

Research News @ Vanderbilt website provides more info:

“The big challenge for this approach is assembling the materials,” said Pint. “Constructing high-performance, functional devices out of nanoscale building blocks with any level of control has proven to be quite challenging, and when it is achieved it is difficult to repeat.”

So Pint and his research team—raduate students Landon Oakes, Andrew Westover and post-doctoral fellow Shahana Chatterjee—decided to take a radically different approach: using porous silicon, a material with a controllable and well-defined nanostructure made by electrochemically etching the surface of a silicon wafer.

This allowed them to create surfaces with optimal nanostructures for supercapacitor electrodes, but it left them with a major problem. Silicon is generally considered unsuitable for use in supercapacitors because it reacts readily with some of chemicals in the electrolytes that provide the ions that store the electrical charge.

With experience in growing carbon nanostructures, Pint’s group decided to try to coat the porous silicon surface with carbon. “We had no idea what would happen,” said Pint. “Typically, researchers grow graphene from silicon-carbide materials at temperatures in excess of 1400 degrees Celsius. But at lower temperatures—600 to 700 degrees Celsius—we certainly didn’t expect graphene-like material growth.”

Graph displays the power density (watts per kilogram) and energy density (watt-hours per kilogram) of capacitors made from porous silicon (P-Si), graphene-coated porous silicon and carbon-based commercial capacitors.

Graph displays the power density (watts per kilogram) and energy density (watt-hours per kilogram) of capacitors made from porous silicon (P-Si), graphene-coated porous silicon and carbon-based commercial capacitors. (Credit: Cary Pint / Vanderbilt)

When the researchers pulled the porous silicon out of the furnace, they found that it had turned from orange to purple or black. When they inspected it under a powerful scanning electron microscope they found that it looked nearly identical to the original material but it was coated by a layer of graphene a few nanometers thick.

When the researchers tested the coated material they found that it had chemically stabilized the silicon surface. When they used it to make supercapacitors, they found that the graphene coating improved energy densities by over two orders of magnitude compared to those made from uncoated porous silicon and significantly better than commercial supercapacitors.

The graphene layer acts as an atomically thin protective coating. Pint and his group argue that this approach isn’t limited to graphene. “The ability to engineer surfaces with atomically thin layers of materials combined with the control achieved in designing porous materials opens opportunities for a number of different applications beyond energy storage,” he said.

“Despite the excellent device performance we achieved, our goal wasn’t to create devices with record performance,” said Pint. “It was to develop a road map for integrated energy storage. Silicon is an ideal material to focus on because it is the basis of so much of our modern technology and applications. In addition, most of the silicon in existing devices remains unused since it is very expensive and wasteful to produce thin silicon wafers.”

Pint’s group is currently using this approach to develop energy storage that can be formed in the excess materials or on the unused back sides of solar cells and sensors. The supercapacitors would store excess the electricity that the cells generate at midday and release it when the demand peaks in the afternoon.

Oakes L, Westover A, Mares JW, Chatterjee S, Erwin WR, Bardhan R, Weiss SM, & Pint CL (2013). Surface engineered porous silicon for stable, high performance electrochemical supercapacitors. Scientific Reports, 3 PMID: 24145684

Original Article on The Daily Fusion

$8 Million Battery Research Lab at University of Michigan Announced


A unique $8 million battery research lab at the University of Michigan will enable industry and university researchers to collaborate on developing cheaper and longer lasting energy storage devices in the heart of the U.S. auto industry.

Initial support for the lab includes $5 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), $2.1 million from Ford Motor Company and roughly $900,000 from the U-M College of Engineering. It will be housed at the U-M Energy Institute within the newly renovated Phoenix Memorial Laboratory—a project completed with $18 million in U-M funding.

“This kind of collaboration is essential to addressing complex challenges like sustainable energy and efficient transportation. I want to thank our campus leaders, MEDC and Ford for having such a singular focus on developing solutions to such challenging energy issues,” said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. She announced the battery research lab at the dedication celebrating the renovation of the Phoenix Memorial Laboratory.

The new facility—for prototyping, testing, and analyzing batteries and the materials that go into them—promises to be a key enabler for Southeast Michigan’s battery supply chain. It will bring together materials scientists and engineers, as well as suppliers and manufacturers, to ease a bottleneck in battery development near the nation’s automotive capital.

“Michigan is the home and leader of the global automotive industry including the development of advanced powertrain technologies. The battery prototyping facility at the U-M Energy Institute will be a valuable resource for our automotive industry going forward,” said Nigel Francis, MEDC senior vice president, automotive, and senior automotive advisor to Gov. Rick Snyder.

At present, research labs—both in industry and at universities in the region—can test new battery structures and chemistries in “coin cells” that resemble those in a watch or hearing aid. But researchers need to be able to test whether their ideas will work in larger cells for more power-hungry devices from smartphones on up to electric vehicles. The new battery facility will let researchers take this step.

For Ford, the lab represents a unique, collaborative approach to basic research in the space of advanced automotive battery development.

“We need to be able to test hundreds of chemistries and cell designs, but they have to be tests that can translate from the lab to the production line,” said Ted Miller, who manages Ford’s battery research. “Ford has battery labs that test and validate production-ready batteries, but nothing this far upstream. This is sorely needed and no one else in the auto industry has anything like it.”

The new lab will be available for any firm to use. It will also allow students to utilize state-of-the-art equipment while working closely with experts

The Energy Institute envisions the new facility as a safe zone for non-competitive collaboration.

“This is open innovation,” said Mark Barteau, the DTE Energy Professor of Advanced Energy Research and director of the U-M Energy Institute. I believe that cooperation between university researchers and industry is essential to create advances that have real-world impact.

In his opinion, better technologies for energy storage are critical both for making electric vehicles desirable alternatives on a much larger scale, and for seamlessly integrating with the power grid renewable energy resources like solar and wind.

The facility will be open to non-automotive battery-makers as well. While prototyping is expected to be a big draw, the testing equipment will offer developers a way to predict how their batteries will fare in regular use and improve on their designs.

The analysis systems will be able to measure the battery while it’s running to determine how well it performs under expected operation. Measurements such as strain and temperature can identify mechanical and heat management issues that could decrease the battery’s performance and shorten its life.

Developers will also be able to do detailed post-testing analysis, revealing changes to the battery’s chemical microstructure after operating.

Original Article on The Daily Fusion

Morocco Gets Solar Research Center


The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt; DLR) is developing plans for a solar power research and test center in Morocco on behalf of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen). The long-term objective of this new center is the development of a competitive solar power industry, that can replace coal as the backbone of the Moroccan electrical system. The project is part of the Moroccan Solar Plan, which envisages having solar power stations capable of generating 2000 megawatts by 2020.

The project is partially funded by the German Government and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. In a country that enjoys long duration of sunshine hours and high irradiation like Morocco, solar power stations have the potential to provide a significant proportion of national power requirements.

The Moroccan town of Ouarzazate is a potential location for this solar research and test centre. Construction work on the first solar power station started at this location in May 2013 as part of the Moroccan Solar Plan. This will be a parabolic trough power plant with a capacity of 160 megawatts. By 2015 this capacity will be increased to 500 megawatts and the complex will then include a solar tower and a photovoltaic power plant. The DLR Institute of Solar Research is now developing a concept for a test center in which pilot and demonstration scale plants will be tested and evaluated, and also in which research and development work can be conducted towards efficient, cost-effective solar power stations to supply electrical power as well as desalination plants in Morocco.

Furthermore, DLR researchers on this project are also evaluating the potential added value of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and Photovoltaic (PV) technology to Moroccan industry. Therefore, training and further education in the construction and operation of solar power stations will also be a priority. Mustapha Bakkoury, the President of Masen, is placing emphasis on the build-up of research expertise in Morocco: “With the Moroccan Solar Plan, our country has sent out a clear signal about the development of solar energy. We are delighted to be able to rely on DLR’s expertise as we set up the Solar Research and Test Center. This initiative will enable us to further intensify cooperation between European and North African researchers and support the development of a competitive solar industry in our country.”

Experience in setting up research centers

Through many years of cooperation with its Spanish partner, CIEMAT, DLR has gained important experience through the joint construction and operation of the Plataforma Solar in Alméria. In addition, DLR has been building up its own research and testing infrastructure for many years, examples being the solar furnace in Cologne and the DLR solar tower in Jülich. “By virtue of our many years of research activity at the Plataforma Solar de Almería and our own facilities, we are familiar with the current status of research and development, as well as the infrastructure required for successful projects. DLR has an extensive network as a result of its numerous collaborative projects with partners from Morocco and other countries in northern Africa, in industry as well as in the research sector,” said Peter Heller, Head of the Qualification Department at the DLR Institute of Solar Research at the Almería site. “In the further education sector, we can draw upon the capacity building programme, ‘enerMena’, developed here at DLR.”

Electrical power around the clock

The DLR Institute of Solar Research is working on technologies for solar power stations, specifically in relation to Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). This technology involves the use of mirrors to concentrate solar radiation onto a point (tower power plant) or a line (parabolic trough power plant). The thermal energy collected here is then used to generate electricity in the same way as in a conventional steam power station. These power stations can generate between five and 250 megawatts of controllable, renewable electrical power. The thermal energy collected has an advantage over other renewable energies in that it is easy to store. This also means that these solar power plants can deliver electrical power around the clock, for example in the evening after the sun has set, and typically a time of peak consumer demand.


Masen (Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy), which was effectively set up in March 2010, is a limited company with public funding, and which was created by Law no. 57-09 for the implementation of the integrated Moroccan Solar plan and the promotion of solar resources in every aspect. Masen has three main missions: to develop solar power plants, contribute to the development of a national expertise, and be a force of proposition on the regional and international plans.

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is Germany’s assistance Agency through its project ‘GIZ Accompaniment of the Moroccan Solar Plan (GIZ APSM)’, which focuses on supporting industrial activities in Morocco’s nascent solar energy sector. GIZ provides technical assistance, which has been mandated by German Ministries to support Morocco in reaching development indicators. GIZ is active in Morocco since 1975. Its mission focuses on providing support for sustainable economic development and land use, the management of water resources, as well as the environment and climate change, including the promotion of renewable energy sources. GIZ projects are commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) the Federal Ministry of Defense, the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and other international institutions.

Original Article on The Daily Fusion

HiFlex Researchers Develop Flexible Organic Solar for Mobile


A technology developed by the HiFlex research project promises flexible, lightweight, on-the-go charging for mobile electronics and remote applications. New organic photovoltaic module (OPV) is relatively cheap and can effectively function under various light conditions.

The project—a collaboration between  ECN, Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE), TNO / Holst Centre, Technical University of Denmark (DTU),  Pera Technology / The UK Materials Technology Research Institute (UK-MatRI), Dr. Schenk and Agfa Gevaert—was supported by the European Commission as part of the FP7 Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Programme.

The project has overcome a number of the key challenges towards the commercialisation of this technology as the modules are fully roll to roll (R2R) processed, indium free, and demonstrate good outdoor stability.

Jan Kroon from ECN, project coordinator for Hiflex says: “Our consortium has developed a relatively low cost module which will significantly accelerate the take up of OPV technology in the mobile electronics market and will also find future applications with other products such as leisure and building industries to name but a few.”

A key feature of the Hiflex project is the removal of indium tin oxide (ITO) which is used as a transparent conductive layer in other OPVs.  ITO is very expensive and there are concerns about future supplies of Indium, so removing ITO has been key to the cost effectiveness and long term viability of the Hiflex technology.  In addition, silver has also been removed from the production process of small credit card sized modules, further reducing costs and potential resource supply issues. Overall, the approach also demonstrates significantly lower embedded energy than competing technologies.

To ensure increased process efficiency and performance and to keep costs under control, testing tools have been built into the production process, which analyse the material for any faults. In particular Hiflex partner Dr. Schenk has installed their SolarInspect RollToRoll Metrology System within DTU’s (Technical University of Denmark) inline printing and coating system.

Kroon continues:  “We’ve made some technological breakthroughs in OPV development here, without losing sight of the user requirements, both in terms of the film’s performance and quality but also regarding production costs, which could limit applications if too high.”

The Hiflex consortium held a final dissemination event in Eindhoven in December 2012 to demonstrate the modules and discuss issues around OPV development and commercialisation.  As well as attracting other research and technology organisations, the event also attracted a good number of potential end users such as building products and solar canopy manufacturers in addition to mobile electronics producers.

Original Article on The Daily Fusion

GE Research Achieves CdTe PV Efficiency Record


Rather quietly, GE Research has bested First Solar for the cadmium telluride PV cell efficiency record.

Clocking in at 18.3 percent, the new record edges First Solar’s previous mark by a full 1 percent. First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) hit 17.3 percent about a year ago.

Presumably, this record was set using the PrimeStar Solar technology acquired by GE in the April 2011 acquisition of the Colorado firm. PrimeStar/GE uses (as did Abound) a close space sublimation (CSS) process for CdTe manufacturing, while First Solar uses a vapor transport deposition (VTD) process. (Note that the GE record is for a cell. First Solar still holds the module record at an NREL-measured 14.4 percent.)

General Electric announced plans to go into production in Colorado with 13 percent panels, and then backed off those plans in July 2012.  A spokesperson for the firm told GTM in an earlier interview that GE remains firmly committed to solar panel production and the plan is to revamp GE’s process to reach 15-percent-efficiency panels.

The test data was was reported in the most recent issue of Progress in Photovoltaics, but word of this record came from a GTM reader who spotted it on the NREL record solar cell efficiency chart. This is the NREL solar efficiency record chart that launched a hundred solar startups and has lured investors to bet on the learning curves of CIGS, a-si, OSCs, and CPV.

Once these records were the domain of labs, government-affiliated entities, or universities.

But Alta Devices’ flexible single-junction gallium arsenide (GaAs) photovoltaics hit 28.8 percent cell efficiencies. Startups such as Amonix (HCPV system), Solar Junction (III-V Triple Junction), and Solexel (thin-film c-Si) lead their respective chemistries. It’s certainly a testament to the risk-taking and smarts of these solar entrepreneurs and investors. It’s also a potential indictment of an underfunded energy research sector that has left VCs shouldering applied research.

First Solar has lost the lead in hero-cell efficiency, but still holds a bit of an edge in megawatts deployed — the firm’s 2012 guidance is for net sales of $3.5 billion to $3.8 billion at a module manufacturing cost below $0.70 per watt.

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