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Texas State's MBE Lab powers $4.5 million DOE solar cell award

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
University News Service
October 24, 2013

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The Advanced Functional Materials Laboratory at Texas State University is part of a collaboration awarded $4.5 million by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop solar devices that near the theoretical efficiency limits of single junction solar cells, or about 30 percent efficiency.

The award was part of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz's Oct. 22 announcement of $60 million in new efforts to drive affordable, efficient solar power. As part of the department's SunShot Initiative, these awards will help lower the cost of solar electricity, advance seamless grid integration and support a growing U.S. solar workforce.

The SunShot Foundational Program to Advance Cell Efficiency (F-PACE) aims to increase the efficiency of photovoltaic (PV) cells achieved in the laboratory and on manufacturing lines. Under this program, four collaborative research teams are working to define and fabricate model systems that can approach theoretical power conversion efficiency limits for a chosen bandgap and absorber material. (www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/sunshot/advance_cell_efficiency.html)

Texas State is playing a lead role in the collaboration led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) (Golden, Colo.). Other partners are First Solar, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines and Washington State University. This team obtained the largest F-PACE award ($4.5 million) of which $1.2 million is targeted for Texas State activities.

The goal of the project is to use epitaxial cadmium telluride (CdTe) films grown by molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) to explore the fundamental limits of doping, lifetime, mobility and surface passivation in CdTe. The research effort aims to demonstrate 24 percent efficient devices.

"We believe that increasing CdTe efficiencies from the current 18.7 percent to 24 percent in three years requires a truly unique team that combines unparalleled capabilities and experience," said Tom Myers, lead investigator of the Texas State effort. "Only so often do the stars align to produce a team of the caliber we have assembled: Texas State brings the needed epitaxial CdTe growth expertise and infrastructure, consisting of a multi-functional molecular-beam epitaxy growth system along with unique advanced characterization facilities; FirstSolar brings additional growth capacity with the experience and capabilities to move laboratory knowledge quickly into practical application; Both Colorado State University and First Solar provide the necessary photovoltaic device physics expertise; Colorado School of Mines provides high-resolution microscopy; Washington State University provides unique defect characterization capabilities; and NREL’s broad expertise in solid-state theory, PV device physics and fabrication, and CdTe characterization complete the team."

Texas State’s Advanced Functional Materials Laboratory is a unique facility for creation and characterization of advanced and artificially structured materials--a nine-chamber molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) machine with expansive growth and in-situ characterization capabilities. Research areas include thermoelectric and photovoltaic materials, next-generation microelectronic materials, epitaxial oxides, power electronics and novel semiconducting, and ferroelectric and ferromagnetic materials. (www.msec.txstate.edu/Research-Programs.html)

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. (www.nrel.gov/about/overview.html)

First Solar is the leading global provider of comprehensive photovoltaic (PV) solar energy solutions. With vertically integrated capabilities improving every aspect of the solar value chain, First Solar delivers power plant solutions that maximize value and mitigate risk for customers worldwide. (www.firstsolar.com/en/About-First-Solar)

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort that aggressively drives innovation to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of the decade. Through SunShot, DOE supports efforts by private companies, universities, and national laboratories to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour. Learn more at www.energy.gov/sunshot.

For more information regarding Texas State's involvement, contact Tom Myers at (512) 245-1839 or via email at tm33@txstate.edu.