Purdue University to lead new PV solar cell research center

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Research in the new Network for Photovoltaic Technology will initially address the need for new modeling and simulation tools to support the development of improved PV devices and will be led by Ashraf Alam, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Mark Lundstrom, the Don and Carol Scifres Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Work in the center, based at the Birck Nanotechnology Center at Purdue’s Discovery Park, will address performance, cost, reliability and manufacturing challenges of PV cells.

"The center will take advantage of Purdue’s extensive modeling and simulation expertise and our national Network for Computational Nanotechnology," said Richard Buckius, Purdue’s vice president for research. "The NCN provides analytical models and simulation tools for PV manufacturers, much as Purdue has done for the semiconductor industry."

In addition to the PV center, the initiative includes a smart grid research center at Carnegie Mellon University to support the incorporation of renewable energy resources and provide modeling, simulation and control tools needed to manage, optimize and secure the power grid.

Since the 1960s, explains the university, the semiconductor industry has been developing advanced computational models and simulations, which have become critical for the design of electronic devices and have enabled industry to develop new technologies and products. "We want to do the same thing for PV," Lundstrom said. "This will be the first center to emphasize the role of models and simulations in this area, and we will seed knowledge gained in this work to industry and other research centers. We’re getting in on the ground floor."

The work will include research to precisely characterize the properties of materials used in PV cells in efforts to better understand the physics involved. Computational models and simulations will enable researchers to test concepts and reliability and also to accelerate the aging of solar cells to see how long they will last.

"Any estimate of the cost of PV assumes the cells will last for 20 to 30 years, but what if they’re more likely to last 60 years? The cost landscape among competing clean technologies can be altered dramatically as a result," Alam said.

The work builds on previous modeling research led by Alam and Lundstrom to develop advanced models for predicting the performance and reliability of new designs for silicon transistors. The same sort of modeling will now be used for photovoltaics. The initiative also aims to train and educate students, providing them with the expertise and skills needed to transition these new methods into the marketplace.

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