A research team led by Brown University is studying a promising new type of solar cell to produce electricity. Rhode Island Public Radio’s environmental reporter Ambar Espinoza reports the project has received a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
Out of all the renewable energy sources, solar has the best capacity to meet the world’s needs, according to Brown University researcher Nitin Padture, engineering professor and director of the Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation. But it’s an expensive technology, even though the cost of solar energy has gone down significantly since its early days.
“In the 60s and 70s, solar cells were something like $60 a watt, and now it’s come down to almost 60 cents a watt in terms of the cost of producing energy,” said Padture, “and we’d like to bring that even lower, to something like a dime a watt is what basically the goal is.”
Now, a relatively new solar cell has emerged as cheaper to make while remaining highly efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. Padture is the principal investigator on a project looking at how this new solar cell works.
“And then using this basic understanding, we can develop new technologies or new methods of making these solar cells and potentially making them [through] large-scale manufacturing."
Padture said the new solar cells are made from perovskite, a crystal mineral. “These cells you can make orange, yellow, red, and so on,” said Padture. “So they can actually become part of the building, and in some cases we can actually make them even transparent, so they could be windows.”
Padture said solar energy has an important role in reducing reliance on fossil fuels. He's working on this project over the next four years with colleagues at Rhode Island College and University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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