More than 70 scientists examining new ways to turn light into energy and energy into light recently gathered at USC to discuss achievements and decide directions.
The participants are affiliated with the USC Center for Energy Nanoscience (CEN), one of the Energy Frontiers Research Centers established by the U.S. Department of Energy. P. Daniel Dapkus, holder of the William M. Keck Chair in Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, is the director of CEN, a five-year program wrapping up its second year.
CEN teams included faculty and students from USC Viterbi, the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Participants heard detailed reports about what colleagues were doing, and they gathered, as Dapkus said, “to count our accomplishments, reassess our directions and focus on the next three years of research.”
CEN researchers are exploring the use of two technologies to capture and conserve energy from the sun: cells using organic materials as opposed to silicon and cells using nanorods or submicroscopic cylinders of various assembled materials. Both technologies also are being studied as potential light-emitting diode illumination devices.
There have been achievements in all areas, according to Dapkus.
“Our organic solar team, led by Mark Thompson, has already demonstrated improvements in the efficiencies of these devices,” he said. “In addition, fundamental studies of the physical mechanisms by which the conversion of light to electricity takes place in these materials are under way that promise to improve the efficiency of the devices even further. This is exciting because this technology promises to be inexpensive and might allow us to employ solar cells more widely than is possible today.”
Thompson noted that the CEN organic solar cell researchers had created a promising new design, delivering higher power than previous devices.
“As we develop more understanding of the devices, the efficiency goes up,” Thompson said. He and his colleagues are making organic devices that use light from a wider portion of the solar spectrum, and they believe rapid progress is being made.
The other design area also is making progress, Dapkus said.
“Nanorod-based solar devices promise high efficiency – possibly two to three times higher than existing solar cells – at costs that are competitive,” Dapkus said. “Our team, led by Chongwu Zhou, is working to realize this potential and to provide a sound scientific underpinning for our accomplishments. It is an exciting time to be involved in this work.”
In addition, USC Viterbi assistant professor Michelle Povinelli is creating optimized nanorod configurations that can produce more energy.
In January, the annual CEN meeting will be held at USC. The gathering will involve all CEN members and its international board of scientific advisers.
“We’re happy to have our colleagues from other universities come to USC to plan a mid-course correction, preparing for the review of our activities that will be coming next year,” Dapkus said.