"We have a lot of sunlight," said Vikram Dalal as sunshine lit up a late-summer morning and the south-facing windows of his office at Iowa State University's Applied Sciences Complex.
Dalal, the director of Iowa State's Microelectronics Research Center and the Thomas M. Whitney Professor in electrical and computer engineering, has spent more than three decades finding ways for that sunlight to generate more and more electricity. He thinks his latest project can boost the performance of an Iowa company's solar cells by 40 to 50 percent.
Dalal is working with PowerFilm Inc., an Ames company that manufactures thin, flexible solar panels, to improve the performance and stability of the company's solar cells. The project is partially supported by a $63,406 grant from the Grow Iowa Values Fund, a state economic development program. Dalal also has a three-year, $220,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support a separate but similar research project.
One of the challenges facing solar cell manufacturers is the fact that most cells are manufactured with crystalline silicon, the same material that's used to make computer semiconductors. Because computer parts have so much more value than solar cells, Dalal said there's a shortage of silicon for solar cells.
There is, however, a way to manufacture solar cells using a lot less silicon. Dalal said non-crystalline silicon wafers that are about 2 micrometers thick can replace crystalline wafers that are about 300 micrometers thick. The result is thin solar cells that can absorb lots of light and can be mounted on flexible plastic and other materials. It's the kind of solar cell technology produced by PowerFilm Inc. But the thin cells produce about half the electricity as crystalline silicon. And their performance drops by about another 15 to 20 percent over time.
"That's where we come in," Dalal said.
Iowa State researchers have made discoveries in materials science and plasma chemistry that can improve hydrogen bonding to the silicon in the thin solar cells. And Dalal said that can improve the performance of the cells by about 35 percent and eliminate about 15 percent of the drop in performance.
The discoveries are expected to result in several patents, Dalal said.
They're also expected to be a potential boost to PowerFilm. Dalal said the new techniques should work with essentially the same manufacturing processes and equipment now used by PowerFilm.
Frank Jeffrey, the chief executive officer of PowerFilm, said he'd be happy to see the performance of his company's solar cells jump by even 20 percent.
"It would put us in a much stronger competitive position," Jeffrey said. "If we can increase performance and keep costs in line, that would give us a significant advantage over other people pursuing thin film solar technology right now."
But he acknowledges Dalal's project won't be an easy one.
"It is a significant challenge to get the advancement he'd like to make," Jeffrey said.
But Dalal is looking forward to facing those challenges in his laboratory.
"This is both challenging and interesting work," said Dalal, who started studying solar technology in 1972 when he decided he didn't want to develop smart bomb technology for a defense contractor. "I find it is tremendously interesting, even after 34 years. And it helps humanity instead of killing it, which allows me to sleep at night."
Vikram Dalal | EurekAlert!
Did you know that the wrapping of Easter eggs benefits from specialty light sources?
13.04.2017 | Heraeus Noblelight GmbH
To e-, or not to e-, the question for the exotic 'Si-III' phase of silicon
05.04.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences