Researchers earn $900,000 grant to develop new solar cells

Researchers at GW are partnering with four other groups to develop new solar cells with plans to create the world’s most efficient solar panel, according to a University release.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a government agency within the U.S. Department of Energy that funds research and development for advanced energy technologies, awarded the $900,000 grant to GW. Research scientist Matthew Lumb in the School of Engineering and Applied Science will lead the research to produce a new concept in solar panel design.

“This is an exciting opportunity for GW to partner with a leading innovator in solar energy,” Lumb said in the release.

GW researchers will partner with Semprius, a startup in North Carolina, the Naval Research Laboratory, tool supplier Veeco and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a total budget of $3.6 million, according to the release.

Lumb said in the release that the most common types of solar panels, the grid-like rectangles on the roofs of houses, use flat-plate photovoltaics technology to convert sunlight into energy.

Semprius, one of the research partners, created a different option that uses more sophisticated materials to increase efficiency. The company created concentrator photovoltaic panels that use micro-scale solar cells, which is both more cost effective and more efficient.

Lumb said in the release that he’s teaming up with Semprius to develop a design that is both cost effective and can be used across different locations.

Lumb and Semprius have been working on a six-junction solar cell that will improve energy conversion efficiency. He said in the release that these cells are made from high-quality crystals that interact with light and split the solar spectrum six ways to generate electrons that power solar panels.

The current record for efficiency in a concentrator cell, measured under direct sunlight, is 46 percent. Lumb’s team is aiming for 50 percent efficiency with their concentrator cells.

Lumb said in the release that his research will extend the reach of solar energy technology to previously uneconomical locations and set a new precedent in solar panel performance.

This research project is one of 11 solar technology innovations that ARPA-E is funding through a $24 million program called MOSAIC.

“The MOSAIC program places an emphasis on solutions that combine cutting-edge scientific research, pushing the boundaries of what is possible, but which maintain a clear path to low-cost, manufacturable processes and designs,” Lumb said in the release. “These factors create the potential for a disruptive impact on commercial photovoltaics of the future.”

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