U.S. Department of Energy

    University of Delaware to Lead $54 Million Solar Cell Project

    November 9, 2005

    The University of Delaware (UD) announced on November 2nd that it will lead a project to double the efficiency of terrestrial solar cells over the next four years. The university's Consortium for Very High Efficiency Solar Cells—consisting of 15 universities, corporations, and laboratories—could receive up to $33.6 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), if all options are awarded, plus another $19.3 million from UD and corporate team members. Those corporate members may include DuPont, BP Solar, Corning Inc., LightSpin Technologies, and Blue Square Energy. The consortium's goal is to develop commercial solar cells that convert 50 percent of the sunlight hitting them into electricity. Currently, high-end solar cells operate at a peak efficiency of 24.7 percent, and solar cells off the production line operate at 15 to 20 percent efficiency. See the UD press release.

    New innovations in solar cells continue to crop up. In October alone, UCLA announced it has developed a plastic solar cell with a 4.4 percent efficiency, and Wake Forest and New Mexico State universities announced their development of a plastic solar cell with a 5.2 percent efficiency. The Wake Forest development hinges on engineering materials on the scale of a billionth of a meter (a nanometer), a field called nanotechnology. Nanotechnology yielded several solar power advances in October: DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) developed a solar cell made from a solution containing nanoscale crystals of semiconductors, as did XsunX, Inc. HelioVolt announced that similar nanostructures may form spontaneously in some thin-film solar cells, causing their observed high efficiency. Taking a different route, the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) has earned a patent for a solar cell that converts water directly into hydrogen, and Stellaris Corporation has developed a concentrating solar glazing. The Stellaris invention incorporates 6-millimeter lenses that focus sunlight onto thin strips of solar cell material. See the press releases from UCLA, Wake Forest, XsunX, LBNL, HelioVolt, and GTI, and the October 6th press release from Stellaris.