Solar Cell Research Receives $770,000 Federal Grant

Glennis Nagel

A $770,000 U.S. Department of Energy grant, one of the largest nonservice grants ever made to UNK faculty, has been awarded to Drs. Chris Exstrom and Scott Darveau in the Department of Chemistry.

The two are working to develop a thin-fi lm-based solar cell that is effi cient enough to make the technology a market-competitive source of energy.

“The goal of the project is to prepare and study the world’s first copper indium boron diselenide (CIBS) thin films,” Dr. Exstrom said. “The inclusion of boron in the material is expected to result in fi lms that will possess record energy conversion effi ciencies and yield higher voltages than any known solar cell films.”

While the grant is to UNK professors, the two are working cooperatively on the project with two members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln electrical engineering faculty. About one-half of the grant is subcontracted to UNL faculty members Drs. Rodney Soukup and Natale Ianno.

To date, CIBS fi lms have never been fabricated due to some unique physical properties of boron; however, the UNK- UNL research partnership has developed the capability of making these films.

The work to produce the new fi lms is divided between the two campuses. At UNL, Drs. Soukup and Ianno combine copper, indium and boron using sputtering techniques. Films then travel to UNK, where selenium is added by a vapor deposition method.

On both campuses, the electrical properties, solar energy conversion performance and chemical structures of all fi lms is extensively analyzed. In addition to producing new knowledge about the structure and properties of thin-fi lm materials, this information will be used by the scientists to continually improve the fi lm production process.

Working with Drs. Exstrom and Darveau is Dr. Jiri Olejnicek, post-doctoral research associate, from Prague, Czech Republic.

According to Dr. John Falconer, UNK director of Sponsored Programs, Nebraska’s congressional delegation played a critical role in getting the funding to UNK.

When asked about his support for the research, U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel said: “It is critical for the United States to encourage innovation in a wide array of alternative energy technologies.

“Further, this funding will allow UNK, UNL and the State of Nebraska to be at the forefront of research into solar cell technology,” Sen. Hagel said. “It will also provide valuable experience for students.”

“We’re really excited to have this fi nancial support,” Dr. Exstrom said. “It is fantastic that our undergraduate students also have the opportunity to join in the undertaking of this nationally prominent research.”