Cornell will join five other New York universities in providing research support to The Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC), a new industry-driven, nonprofit organization that provides leadership, organization, resources and support to establish a major solar energy industry cluster in Kingston, N.Y.
The research partnership between various academic hubs across the state and solar energy companies will help advance New York's solar industry, said U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-22nd Dist.), who has so far secured approval of $3.2 million for solar research and development in conjunction with TSEC, and continues to seek additional state and federal funding.
The other academic institutions joining the consortium so far are Binghamton University, Clarkson University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, SUNY New Paltz and the City University of New York.
Cornell's role will be to conduct research to improve photovoltaic technology through materials science and nanotechnology, said George Malliaras, Cornell associate professor of materials science and engineering, the Lester B. Knight Director of the Cornell NanoScale Facility (CNF) and acting liaison with the consortium.
Photovoltaic or "solar" cells absorb energy from the sun and use that energy to create an electrical current. Typical commercially available cells today have efficiencies of around 12-13 percent, which means that for every 100 watts of energy delivered by the sun, the cell puts out 12-13 watts of electricity. Guidelines for the new consortium call for doubling that.
Traditionally solar cells are made with silicon, requiring precise and therefore expensive manufacturing processes. Malliaras and colleagues at Cornell are exploring new materials to deliver similar efficiencies at lower cost, such as organic semiconductors that could simply be extruded and rolled out as sheets. Nanotechnology, Malliaras said, can offer new ways to assemble these materials at the molecular level and ways to use them more efficiently, for example by texturing surfaces to absorb more light.
CNF, Malliaras noted, does not itself conduct research, but provides services to researchers. "We have to read the trends in the industry and are ready to accommodate the increased interest in photovoltaic research," he said, adding that he hopes the new consortium will provide funding for equipment needed in this field, such as a machine to apply nanoscale patterning to surfaces. Funding for research, he said, will be managed through the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future.