Researcher identifying earth-abundant materials for solar power production

September 2, 2015 | News, Research, UToday, Natural Sciences and Mathematics
By Meghan Cunningham

A University of Toledo researcher is working to create the next generation of solar cells made of earth-abundant materials.

Dr. Yanfa Yan, Ohio Research Scholar Chair and professor of physics, was awarded a $399,876, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to identify the new earth-abundant materials with optoelectronic properties for efficient solar energy conversion. The leader-investigator on this collaborative research project is Dr. Rakesh Agrawal, the Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at Purdue University.



“Electricity is the fastest growing sector in the U.S. and electronic devices are everywhere. Finding new earth-abundant materials to use in future thin-film electronic devices will change how they are made and reduce how much they may cost,” Yan said. “This will help enable the widespread use of solar cells as an abundant source of electricity for a sustainable energy economy for the future. We look forward to working with our collaborators on this ground-breaking effort.”

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur congratulated Yan and the University for receiving this competitive federal grant award to advance solar energy generation, which is the nation’s fastest-growing renewable energy source accounting for 13.1 percent of all U.S. domestic energy production in 2014.

“Northern Ohio is the birthplace of First Solar and many other renewable energy technologies and firms, and our region continues its path-breaking leadership in solar energy development with this new award to UT,” Kaptur said. “These UT researchers are working to identify new materials that could make solar power cheaper and more sustainable. This effort has the potential to transform the future of energy production. I congratulate NSF for recognizing the importance of this work and the faculty and student researchers for earning this well-deserved award.”

Identifying materials such as copper, tin and other metals widely available, rather than traditional photovoltaic materials such as cadmium telluride, will both reduce the cost of solar cells and allow for greater production and distribution of solar energy, Yan said.

In addition to identifying the materials, Yan and the research team will synthesize the promising materials and create functioning solar cells in an effort to develop high-efficiency solar cells ready for commercial use.

“Our faculty researchers and students will have the opportunity to identify new materials that can make renewable solar energy more efficient while at the same time enabling the production of solar cells from more easily available and cheaper alternative materials,” said Dr. Karen Bjorkman, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “The college is proud of the outstanding work being done by Professor Yan and his collaborators, and our students will benefit greatly from being able to participate in important projects like this.”

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