Shannon Boettcher, an associate professor in the University of Oregon Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has received a Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS) award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative.
Boettcher’s research focuses on harnessing the power of the sun, which provides a staggering amount of energy. The gap between solar energy’s potential and our current utilization of it is limited in part by the cost of making high-efficiency solar cells.
Boettcher will use the $225,000 award to work with Robert Weiss of Malachite Technologies and Shaul Aloni of Berkeley Laboratories to design and build a prototype system for making high-performance, low-cost solar photovoltaics at the UO. The new technology will ultimately serve as an enabling process for commercialization in collaboration with industry partners.
“In order to continue cost reductions in solar cell technology, we need to increase solar cell efficiency,” Boettcher said. “The materials we are developing—called III-V’s because they contain elements from group III and group V of the periodic table—can be used to make the very highest efficiency solar cells known but are prohibitively expensive. We aim to change that through our new growth process.”
The growth process is a variant of technique called “close space vapor transport.” The process utilizes potentially inexpensive and safe solid starting materials instead of the conventionally used pyrophoric (i.e., explosive on contact with air) and toxic gases. Boettcher and his team believe that such innovations could significantly lower costs.
A national program within the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the SunShot Initiative aims to reduce the total cost of solar energy systems to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) by the year 2020, making solar energy cost-competitive with traditional energy sources. As of November 2015, the solar industry was already 70 percent of the way to achieving SunShot’s cost target. UO’s new award is a part of the SunShot Initiative’s SIPS funding program, which is dedicated to small projects that are intended to demonstrate the potential for expanded work in a given area.
Read the U.S. Department of Energy's official announcement