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Dow, Caltech tie up on photovoltaic R&D

Posted: 17 Nov 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:photovoltaics? R&D? solar energy?

The Dow Chemical Co. and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) are embarking on multiyear solar energy research collaboration. The arrangement will align Dow's capabilities in CIGS-based materials with Caltech's research in next-generation photovoltaics. The collaboration aims to develop ultralow*cost, high-efficiency PV materials.

"In combining the R&D strengths of Dow and Caltech, we have created a powerful alliance for innovation in the field of PVs," said Bill Banholzer, executive VP and chief technology officer of Dow. "This alliance will allow the best scientists in the field the opportunity to work together to achieve the kinds of breakthrough technologies that will be game-changing in solar energy capture."

The research, which falls under a four-year agreement, will initially focus on direct band gap materials that incorporate elements that are less expensive and more commonly available than those used in today's thin film PV semiconductors. Researchers from both organizations will investigate the use of earth abundant elements to create new direct band gap PVs.

"Use of earth-abundant materials can provide new technology options and could open new areas of design space," notes chemist Nate Lewis, Caltech's George Argyros Professor. "But it also brings new challenges. This project will develop the science and technology base for thin-film solar-energy conversion using these widely available materials."

PVs provide carbon free electricity, however the cost and aesthetics of current PV systems has limited its adoption. Dow recently announced its first building integrated PV product, the Dow P Solar Shingle which provides lower cost, easier installation and a dramatically improved aesthetic. This product incorporates thin films of a compound semiconductor, CIGS to convert sunlight into electricity. Unlike silicon, which is the basis for most currently available solar cells, CIGS is a thinner, direct band gap material that can be incorporated into flexible products such as Dow's Powerhouse shingles. However, some of the elements in CIGS and other thin film semiconductors are in high demand, expensive and scarce. Increased material cost could threaten an expanded adoption of PV as part of a comprehensive energy policy.

The multi-million dollar Dow-Caltech solar research initiative is one of the company's largest externally funded research agreements. Both organizations also announced the creation of The Dow Chemical Company Graduate Fellowship in Chemical Sciences and Engineering, which will be granted to a second- or third-year doctoral student who shows excellence in research, leadership, and interpersonal effectiveness, and whose research program aligns with broad areas of interest to Dow, such as alternative energy sources, the development of novel specialty chemicals, and the investigation of new polymer systems. Each recipient will be selected by the chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and will hold the fellowship for up to two years.

"We are pleased that Dow and Caltech are building this relationship to support innovative research as a basis for new technologies," says Jacqueline Barton, the division's current chair.

"Dow understands that high quality research is occurring in both industrial and academic laboratories. We believe that collaborations like this are crucial to our success in the development of efficient, affordable energy solutions," said Banholzer.

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