U.S. DOE Awards $22.7 M for Basic Solar Energy Research

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) yesterday announced $22.7 million in basic research projects aimed at improving the capture, conversion and use of solar energy.

“These projects are part of our aggressive basic research in the physical sciences — what I call ‘transformational science’ — aimed at achieving a new generation of breakthrough technologies that will push the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy sources to levels comparable to petroleum and natural gas sources,” said Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, Under Secretary for Science.

DOE’s Office of Science selected 27 projects that will focus on fundamental science to support enhanced use of solar energy. Universities and national laboratories in 18 states will conduct the research.

The projects are part of a department-wide, comprehensive, balanced portfolio of basic and applied research and technology development aimed at significantly advancing the use of sunlight as a practicable solution to meet our compelling need for clean, abundant sources of energy. These projects, along with the commercialization projects funded through the Solar America Initiative (SAI), form an important component of President Bush’s Advanced Energy Initiative. DOE plans to fund additional projects in fiscal year 2008.

The projects will address two priority technical areas:

— Conversion of Solar Energy to Electricity (14 projects, $9.9 million over three years)
The challenge in converting sunlight to electricity is to greatly reduce the cost per watt of delivered solar electricity by dramatically improving the conversion efficiency. A broad range of research on novel approaches to solar-to-electricity conversion is covered by these projects, including nanostructured inorganic photovoltaics, plasmonic conversion concepts, organic and hybrid inorganic-organic photovoltaics, multiple-exciton generation for enhanced conversion, and nano-arrays for improved photoelectrochemical cell performance.

— Conversion of Solar Energy to Chemical Fuels (13 projects, $12.8 million over three years)
The direct conversion of sunlight into chemical fuels is vital in order to overcome the problem of the day/night variation of the solar resource and to provide solar-derived energy in forms useful for transportation, residential and industrial applications. Projects in this area focus on two major areas: detailed studies of the machinery of natural photosynthetic systems aimed at biomimetic approaches to solar water splitting and photocatalytic schemes for the direct conversion of sunlight into hydrogen or hydrocarbon fuels.

The list of new projects follows.

Basic Research for Solar Energy Utilization
Institution Project Title
Solar Energy to Electricity
Arizona State University Dynamical Arrest, Structural Disorder, and Optimization of Organic Photovoltaic Devices
California Institute of Technology Plasmonic Photovoltaics
University of Colorado Study of Multiple Exciton Generation with New Multi-Dimensional Spectroscopies
Cornell University Cross-Cutting Tools for Theoretical Organic Photovoltaic Research
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Probing Nanocrystal Electronic Structure and Dynamics in the Limit of Single Nanocrystals
Massachusetts Institute of Technology High Efficiency Biomimetic Organic Solar Cells
University of Minnesota Monodispersed Zinc Oxide Nanoparticle-Dye Dyads and Triads: Characterization of the Early Events in Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells
University of Minnesota Extracting Hot or Multiple Charge Carriers from Photoexcited Semiconductor Nanocrystals
Ohio State University Designing Nanoparticle/Nanowire Composites and “Nanotree” Arrays as Electrodes for Efficient Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells
University of Oregon Conjugated Ionomers for Photovoltaic Applications: Electric Field Driven Charge Separation at Organic Junctions
University of Pittsburgh Nanocrystal-Based Dyads for Solar to Electric Energy Conversion
University of South Carolina Hybrid Organic-Inorganic Composite Solar Cells for Efficient, Low-Cost, Photoelectric Energy Conversion
Stanford University Nanophotonics-Enhanced Solar Cells
University of Washington Molecular and Nanoscale Engineering of High Efficiency Polymer and Hybrid Organic/Inorganic Solar Cells
Solar Energy to Fuels
Brookhaven National Laboratory Solar Fuel Production Catalyzed by Transition-Metal Complexes 
University of Chicago New Transition Metal Building Blocks and Assemblies for Photocatalytic Fuel Production
Emory University Solar Energy-Driven Robust Multi-Electron-Transfer Catalysts for Water Oxidation 
University of Illinois Self Assembly & Self-Repair of Novel Photosynthetic Reaction Center/Single Walled Carbon Nanotube Complexes for Solar Energy Conversion-Synthetic Analogs to Natural Processes
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Nanomaterials and Bio-inspired Approaches to Solar Derived Fuels 
University of Michigan Two-Dimensional Electronic Spectroscopy of Light-Harvesting Complexes
Montana State University Protein Architectures for Photo-Catalytic Hydrogen Production
North Carolina State University Molecular-Level Organization of Heterometallic Oxides/Organics for Photocatalysis
University of Pennsylvania Semiconductor Ferroelectrics and Surface Nanomaterials for Highly Efficient Solar Hydrogen Production
Pennsylvania State University Nanostructured Photocatalytic Water Splitting Systems
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Elucidating the Principles that Control Proton-Coupled Electron Transfer Reactions in the Photosynthetic Protein, Photosystem II. A Model for Design of Bio-inspired Photocatalytic Water Splitting
Washington University Mechanism of Solar Energy Storage by Chlorosome Antennas of Green Photosynthetic Bacteria 
Yale University Oxomanganese Catalysts for Solar Fuel Production


The basic solar research program is administered by the department’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences in the Office of Science (first link below).

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