Photovoltaics growth, innovation strengthened by incoming faculty
Apr 15, 2008
The University of Toledo continues to fortify its expertise in the field of photovoltaics with the addition of two internationally renowned faculty members.
Dr. Michael Heben and Dr. Randall Ellingson have been appointed to key positions within UT’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.
“The addition of these professors will have tremendous benefit to The University of Toledo’s photovoltaics programs, as well as other innovative programs for developing cleaner energy resources,” said Dr. Alvin Compaan, professor of physics and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “This also gives our undergraduate and graduate students even more opportunities to interact with the best scientists in this field.”
Heben has been appointed Wright Center of Innovation (WCI) endowed chair in photovoltaics, in addition professor of physics. Heben’s position is part of an $18.6 million WCI Award secured through the Ohio Department of Development.
Currently, Heben is principal scientist and team leader of the Nanostructured Materials Group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo. NREL is an elite research laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Heben founded and is director of the DOE’s Center of Excellence on Hydrogen Sorption Materials, which integrates 15 research projects at 14 government, academic and industrial institutions.
“Dr. Heben is an expert in carbon nanotubes, related nanomaterials, and their application to energy conversion and storage technologies, such as photovoltaics and hydrogen storage,” Compaan said.
The Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization, called the PVIC, is a world-class science and technology platform established by the state of Ohio to further the research and applications of clean electricity generation. UT is the lead university, with Ohio State University and Bowling Green State University, and houses one of two major laboratories of the center on campus. Compaan said PVIC laboratory research activities now are limited by reduced capacity until improvements to the Research and Technology Complex 1 facility are completed in mid-summer.
Ellingson will join UT’s Department of Physics and Astronomy as an associate professor. He has been with NREL since 1994, first as a postdoctoral scientist and currently as a senior scientist. In 2005, he also was a one-year detailee to the DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences in the Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering in Washington, D.C.
Ellingson serves as principal investigator of a NREL project to elucidate the basic physics of nanostructured absorbers for obtaining highly efficient conversion of solar energy to electricity and fuels.
Last year, Ellingson’s team reported a unique quantum effect in silicon nanocrystals in which a single photon can produce more than one electron. The effect is under intense investigation as a way to improve the efficiency of solar cells.
“Dr. Ellingson is an expert in third-generation materials for photovoltaics,” Compaan said. “He applies time-resolved laser spectroscopy to study how light energy converts to electrical and thermal energy within nanostructured materials to understand the processes that affect solar cell efficiency.”
UT has been active in photovoltaics technology and research since 1987. From the beginning, the photovoltaics group has collaborated with industry. In recent years, the University’s collaborations with local industry to convert research discoveries into usable energy applications have sparked academic growth and economic development.
“We’re very pleased with how UT’s photovoltaics research activity has helped stimulate the growth of private industry,” Compaan said, citing four local businesses that have been created or have expanded due to partnerships with UT.
UT is recognized as an international leader in fundamental research of photovoltaic-related materials, in developing photovoltaic cells, and in improving performance and reliability of solar cells, modules and systems. Through the PVIC, the University will continue its efforts to improve materials and technology to lower production costs and improve solar electricity efficiency.
A number of federal and state grants have fueled UT’s dynamic research. In addition to the Wright funds, UT recently received $2.6 million in funding from the DOE for two photovoltaics projects.
With advances gleaned from this research, UT’s technology partners are making photovoltaic materials more cost-effective and efficient. According to NREL, thin-film solar cell technology is likely to help drive the cost of solar electricity down from today’s 25-cent to 30-cent per kilowatt hour to below 10 cents per kilowatt hour within five to 10 years, when it is expected to be lower than the cost of electricity delivered from coal or nuclear power.
“The addition of Dr. Heben and Dr. Ellingson to UT’s faculty will allow us to continue our international leadership in developing new photovoltaics technologies and to strengthen our partnerships with local industry,” Compaan said.
Heben and Ellingson are scheduled to assume their new positions in August.