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Next Generation Photovoltaics (NGPV)

Colorado State University

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University-Central Texas

University of Texas at Austin

Last Reviewed: 05/31/2017

The center is focused on the development of next generation photovoltaic (PV) devices.

Center Mission and Rationale

The Center for Next Generation Photovoltaics (PVs) between The University of Texas at Austin, Colorado State University, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University-Central Texas and Colorado School of Mines is doing research to make PV electricity a major source of energy. The vision and long-term goal of the Center is to help establish PV electricity as a major source of energy in the United States and the world.  The Center directs cutting edge academic research in four areas: 

        (1) PV Materials/Devices/Manufacturing
        (2) Balance of Systems and PV Implementation
        (3) PV Integration with Storage and Electric Vehicles
        (4) Education and Societal Impact of PV

By the end of 2016, the global installed solar PV capacity reached 305 GW which provided about 320 TWh/yr of electrical energy. This is equivalent to 0.15% of global energy consumption. The growth of the PV industry has been staggering. The global solar PV capacity was only 50 GW in 2010, and in 2000 it was a meager 4 GW. In 2016 alone, the global solar PV capacity rose by 50% due to new installations in China and the US. The PV industry is a $100 billion industry that is expected to continue to grow. By 2030, the total global PV capacity could reach 10 TW, generating about 5% of the anticipated global consumption of energy in 2030. 

To reach PV deployment of this magnitude, there are many challenge that must be overcome: (1) the total cost of PV systems must be reduced  while simultaneously increasing energy conversion efficiency, reliability and lifetime, (2) the capacity to cost-effectively manufacture solar cells and balance of systems components must be significantly increased, (3) methods to integrate PV into the utility grid must continue to improve to ensure affordable and reliable electricity, (4) transportation and building heating and cooling must be increasingly electrified and (5) technologies must be improved for energy storage, catalyzed chemicals and fuels production, and water purification. The Industry/University Cooperative Research Center for Next Generation Photovoltaics is addressing all of these key technological challenges to help make photovoltaic electricity a major source of energy in the world.

Educational Component

One of the primary goals of the Center for Next Generation Photovoltaics is to help prepare undergraduate and graduate students for their career after receiving their degree. Numerous students within both sites have gone on to work directly with Center members following their graduation and we intend to continue this outcome in the future.

Center faculty have direct experience in starting up companies that have spun-off from their research and are uniquely qualified to help prepare students for work that may follow after graduation. Students will be technically prepared for their future jobs, whether or not they're directly with Center members or otherwise. Additionally, the time spent networking with and presenting to IAB members at meetings serves as an invaluable teaching tool. Our Center has worked with local teachers via the RET supplement from NSF and has put together a number of lesson plans for middle school and high school teachers to utilize as well asn extensive collection of links to useful pages for teachers and students alike.

Research program

To help make photovoltaic electricity a major source of energy

The Center's vision and long-term goal is to help make photovoltaic (PV) electricity a major source of energy. To accomplish this, the Center is developing new strategies for bringing cost down and efficiency up, with a target of $1/W. Research focuses on inexpensive thin film semiconductors that can be processed using high throughput schemes. This includes CdTe and CIGS, as well as new thin film alternatives like MgxCd1-xTe, CZTS, and pyrite (FeS2). Processing strategies involve both state-of-the-art gas phase and exploratory solution-based methods.

At the moment, the manufacturing cost of single junction cells (i.e., CdTe) is approaching $0.5/W, but the cost of PV systems remains high ($2.5/W) because the relatively low efficiency (~12%) leads to high balance of system (BOS) costs. A new technology with the very low manufacturing cost of CdTe but with significantly higher efficiency (>20%) is needed to significantly reduce the cost of PV electricity to $1/W and make it competitive with fossil fuels. This is a tremendous challenge, and no such technology currently exists that can meet this need. It is not simply a matter of improving existing commercially available technologies. A new approach is needed.

The Center for Next Generation Photovoltaics is working to develop such an approach through cooperation between academic researchers and industrial partners. We believe that the most viable way to achieve these goals is through the development of multijunction thin film solar cells. Extremely high efficiency multijunction (or tandem) solar cells already exist and can be made by ultrahigh vacuum deposition of predominantly III-V semiconductors with efficiencies exceeding 40%. But cells made in this way, using these materials, are limited to very small size and exceedingly high manufacturing cost. They are widely used in space applications which require their high efficiency, but are not suitable for terrestrial applications because of their very prohibitively high cost. A multijunction cell that could be produced as inexpensively as a thin film CdTe solar cell, by depositing thin film semiconductor materials on very large area substrates, and achieve efficiencies exceeding 20%, would revolutionize the PV industry.

With this overarching theme, the Center focuses on developing both new and established low-cost thin film materials to achieve an ultrahigh efficiency thin film multijunction solar cell. At the moment, it is not clear which materials are best suited for this, so research in the Center involves the study of a variety of materials, keeping in mind performance, cost, availability, environmental impact and manufacturability. New processing strategies with unexplored combinations of materials are needed. Therefore, research involves several different approaches, including gas-phase and solution-phase methods, but all are targeted on achieving high throughput, large area devices and low cost.

Research that will position industry partners with new intellectual property that provides a fundamental competitive advantage in the future is a primary consideration.

Special Activities

The NGPV meets for two in person meetings every year. Based on the timeline of our Center, we have transitioned to proposing new projects during our Fall IAB meetings. In the Spring, the Industrial Advisory Board convenes at one of the University locations and the Site Directors and their students provide updates on the research that has happened since everyone last met. 

The IAB meets again in the Fall (roughly 6 months later) to receive project updates -- these are generally a final update as most of the projects have a one year lifespan. After the updates have been done, the different PIs and their students will present ideas for projects for the next year at which point the IAB will vote to fund the projects which are of interest to them.

In addition to the Spring and Fall IAB meetings, the Center has a bi-weekly Distinguished Lecture Series which is open to all members of the IAB as well as the public. These talks are recorded and posted on Youtube.

Facilities and Laboratory

The University of Texas at Austin

UT Austin has  an  extensive  network  of  comprehensive facilities for specialized materials fabrication and analysis, including HRTEM, dual beam SEM/FIB, E-beam lithography, XPS, SAXS, XRD, HRSEM distributed among the Texas Materials Institute (TMI; http://tmi.utexas.edu/core-facilities/), the Microelectronics Research Center (MRC;  www.mrc.utexas.edu/nnin.html), the Center for Nano- and Molecular Science and Technology (CNM;  http://www.cnm.utexas.edu/facility.html) and the Texas Advanced  Computing Center (TACC;  http://www.tacc.utexas.edu/resources/). 

Colorado State University

CSU has been  at  the  forefront  of  CdTe  photovoltaic  manufacturing  technology  development  since  1991. The Materials Engineering Laboratory (MEL; http://www.engr.colostate.edu/me/facil/mel/) has numerous pieces of equipment and processes have been developed for synthesis and testing of photovoltaic devices including  Accelerated Lifetime Testing (ALT) of devices, device characterization including dark JV, light JV, CV, CF, TAS, TID, PHCAP etc. The Advanced Deposition System (ADS) provides a process-flexible, customizable test bed for producing complete devices on 3” by 3” or smaller substrates.

Texas A&M University

TAMU’s research facilities include state of the art power electronics and balance of systems (BOS) equipment. This includes over 150kVA of dedicated 3-phase 208V power with access to a 54kVA fully programmable 3-phase ac source to simulate arbitrary ac grid conditions. Multiple solar array simulator (SAS) result in the ability to test end-to end a complete PV electrical system. TAMU is also developing a 50 MW solar field for research to develop early-stage technologies in solar power. TAMU has additional PV characterization equipment available in the Materials Characterization Facility including microscopy, surface, thermal and spectroscopic analysis (http://mcf.tamu.edu/instruments/).

Texas A&M University - Central Texas

TAMUCT houses the solar characterization lab with high end microscopy and spectroscopic tools for evaluation of the luminescent properties of photovoltaics including cathodoluminescence (CL), electron beam induced current (EBIC), photoluminescence (PL) and electroluminescence (EL). TAMUCT is also the home of the big data solar energy lab.

​Colorado School of Mines

CSM is the home of the Renewable Energy Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (REMRSEC). These  facilities  provide  a  unique  set  of  tools  that  allows  users  to  pursue  materials  and  device  research  from  the  synthesis  stage,  through  thin  film  deposition  and  processing,  to  characterization  and  eventual device testing and evaluation (http://remrsec.mines.edu/facilities.htm).

Locations

Colorado State University

Engineering Research Center B120

Fort Collins, Colorado, 80523

United States

(970)-491-8619

(970)-491-8671

University of Texas at Austin

UT Chemical Engineering, CPE Building 1.450B
200 E. Dean Keeton

Austin, Texas, 78705

United States

(512) 471-5633

(512) 471-7060

Texas A&M University

205D Wisenbaker Engineering Building
TAMU 3128

College Station, Texas, 77843-3128

United States

979-862-4985

Texas A&M University-Central Texas

1001 Leadership Place

Killeen, Texas, 76549

United States

254-501-5823