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Next Generation Photovoltaics (NGPV)

Colorado State University

Texas A&M University

University of Texas at Austin

Last Reviewed: (not done)

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 Colorado State University and The University of Texas at Austin is doing research to make PV electricity a major source of energy.  Research in the Center involves four focus areas of interest to the PV industry:

        (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

The Center is expanding as the photovoltaics (PV) industry continues to grow and evolve.  Texas A&M University has submitted a site proposal to the National Science Foundation to become a new research site in the Center with special expertise in PV balance of systems (BOS).  The Center anticipates approval and addition of the new site to the Center by the middle of the summer of 2016. 

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.

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 four times throughout the year. 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. Following these project updates, Site Directors propose future projects or whether or not to continue existing projects at which point the IAB utilizes a voting process to determine which projects will be funded.

The IAB meets again in the Fall (roughly 6 months later) to receive an update on the status of the projects they are funding. Project selection happens only during the Spring.

In addition to the Spring and Fall IAB meetings, the Center has quarterly updates that are done via conference call. Members are provided with research update presentations in advance of the call to give them a feel for how projects are progressing.

Facilities and Laboratory

The University of Texas at Austin

UT Austin utilizes numerous facilities both on campus and off. In addition to Center Director Brian Korgel's own labs, the students perform research in the facilities that are a part of the Texas Materials Institute and the Center for Nano- and Molecular Science. The TMI and CNM feature a variety of facilities that support state-of-the-art teaching activities and high-level scientific research. Some of the functions that the students are able to perform in these facilities include the following:

  1. Electron Microscopy
  2. Polymer Characterization
  3. X-ray Scattering
  4. Surface Analysis
  5. Scanning Probe Microscopy
  6. Nano Fabrication and Testing
  7. Mechanical Testing
  8. Polymer Processing

Students also work with Center members to access their research facilities and tools to help better serve the member companies' needs and to help prepare the students for future job opportunities.

Colorado State University

Colorado State University has a number of facilities that will actively participate within the I/UCRC. Site Director W.S. Sampath's Materials Engineering Lab is outlined below.

The Mechanical Engineering's Materials Engineering Lab (MEL) has in been in the forefront of CdTe photovoltaic manufacturing technology development since 1991. Several unique testing hardware, capabilities and expertise have been developed by MEL.  These include the following testing capabilities:

  1. Continuous in-line system for processing 3 x 3 inch substrates for CdS/CdTe photovoltaic devices. The system has capabilities for glass heating, CdS deposition, CdTe deposition, CdCl2 treatment and back contact. Facilities for measuring film thickness are Abound.
  2. Substrate preparation and automated cleaning in a cleanroom mini-environment.
  3. Spray metallization for back electrode formation.
  4. Small area device fabrication for analysis.
  5. Stress testing of devices under accelerated conditions with controlled temperature and illumination
  6. Exposing and testing devices under outdoor conditions emulating sealed modules.
  7. Device characterization including dark JV, light JV, CV, CF, TAS, TID, PHCAP etc. and the capability to perform these as a function of temperature using cryostat.

CSU also utilizes the Photovoltaics Laboratory and the Central Instrument Facility. The Photovoltaics Laboratory is headed by Center faculty member, Dr. James Sites.

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

Texas A&M University

205D Wisenbaker Engineering Building
TAMU 3128

College Station, Texas, 77843-3128

United States