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Richard T. Stuebi

Leadership in Renewable Energy
It is critically important that participants in the renewable energy  
community continue to push for better-performing and lower-cost  
products, more favorable public policies, increased supply of capital,  
and greater education of the populace and the marketplace about clean  
energy. However, at the root of these four thrusts is one common  
essential element, which therefore should elevate it to the most urgent  
priority for the renewable energy industry to address: the renewable  
energy sector needs stronger leadership. ...continue

Read Other Recent RE Insiders

Solar Photovoltaic Breakthrough Taps Infrared Light

January 11, 2005

Toronto, Canada [] Polymer-based solar  
photovoltaic cells are one of the most highly anticipated fields in the  
solar industry these days. While current technologies on the market  
struggle to match their crystalline counterparts in terms of  
price-per-watt, researchers are on the hunt. Researchers like a team  
from the University of Toronto that recently announced a breakthrough  
in capturing light energy from beyond the visible spectrum.

  In a paper published on the Nature Materials Web site on January 9,  
senior author and Professor Ted Sargent, Nortel Networks -- Canada  
Research Chair in Emerging Technologies at the University of Toronto's  
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and his team report  
on their achievement in tailoring matter to harvest the sun's  
invisible, infrared rays.

"We made particles from semiconductor crystals which were exactly two,  
three or four nanometres in size," Sargent said. "The nanoparticles  
were so small they remained dispersed in everyday solvents just like  
the particles in paint," explains Sargent.

Sargent's team then tuned the tiny nanocrystals to catch light at very  
long wavelengths. The result is a sprayable infrared detector.

"Existing technology has given us solution-processible, light-sensitive  
materials that have made large, low-cost solar cells, displays, and  
sensors possible, but these materials have so far only worked in the  
visible light spectrum," Sargent said.

The discovery may help in the quest for cheaper, more efficient  
renewable energy resources. Specifically, it could help drive up the  
efficiencies of current polymer-based solar cells which hold the  
potential to be manufactured at a lower cost than current crystalline  
silicon cells but have so far been unable to match crystalline power  
conversion efficiencies.

"Companies have already been formed which have discovered how to make  
roll-to-roll, large area, plastic photovoltaics," Sargent said. "They  
face the challenge of low efficiencies in harvesting the sun's power.  
Our work has the potential to improve these efficiencies considerably.

Sargent expects their research breakthrough could see commercial  
implementation within 3 to 5 years.

Flexible, roller-processed solar cells have the potential to harness  
the sun's power, but efficiency, flexibility and cost are going to  
determine how that potential becomes practice, said Josh Wolfe,  
Managing Partner and nanotechnology venture capital investor at Lux  
Capital in Manhattan.

"These flexible photovoltaics could harness half of the sun's spectrum  
not previously accessed," he said.

Professor Peter Peumans of Stanford University, who has reviewed the U  
of T team's research, also acknowledges the groundbreaking nature of  
the work.

"Our calculations show that with further improvements in efficiency,  
combining infrared and visible photovoltaics, could allow up to 30  
percent of the sun's radiant energy to be harnessed, compared to six  
percent in today's best plastic solar cells," Peumans said.

U of T electrical and computer engineering graduate student Steve  
MacDonald carried out many of the experiments that produced the world's  
first solution-processed photovoltaic in the infrared.

"The key was finding the right molecules to wrap around our  
nanoparticles," he explains. "Too long and the particles couldn't  
deliver their electrical energy to our circuit; too short, and they  
clumped up, losing their nanoscale properties. It turned out that one  
nanometer - eight carbon atoms strung together in a chain - was 'just  

Other members of the U of T research team are Gerasimos Konstantatos,  
Shiguo Zhang, Paul W. Cyr, Ethan J.D. Klem, and Larissa Lavina of  
electrical and computer engineering; Cyr is also with the Department of  
Chemistry. The research was supported in part by the Government of  
Ontario through Materials and Manufacturing Ontario, a division of the  
Ontario Centres of Excellence; the Natural Sciences and Engineering  
Research Council of Canada through its Collaborative Research and  
Development Program; Nortel Networks; the Canada Foundation for  
Innovation; the Ontario Innovation Trust; the Canada Research Chairs  
Programme; and the Ontario Graduate Scholarship.

Information courtesy of Sonnet L'Abbe, University of Toronto

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