US government slates $30 million for new hybrid solar solutions

A high efficiency solar cell that functions effectively at temperatures above 400o c, a cell which separates off some wavelengths of sunlight for storage as heat and a technology which could lead to a significant reduction in the size of solar farms are among the 12 hybrid technologies being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Thursday announced a $30 million funding package for 12 solar hybrid projects under the Department’s FOCUS program.

San Francisco-based Otherlab has secured $3 million to fund a solar cell which diverts the parts of the spectrum of sunlight received that are not converted into electricity to heat a pool of molten salt and be stored as heat for on-demand despatch.

Otherlab claims the technology could see low-cost solar farms that could fit inside an American football field replacing conventional equivalents which can extend for several miles, a claim that will be closely watched in countries like the UK and Japan where land for solar farm development is at a premium.

MicroLink Devices, of Niles, Illinois, has been awarded $3.6 million – the third highest award in the current funding round – to develop a high efficiency cell that operates at temperatures above 400oc with conventional cells losing efficiency above 1000c. The company also plans to use manufacturing techniques which will permit reuse of cell manufacturing templates in a development that may have wider applications across the solar industry.

MIT secured two awards

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in one of two awards among the $30 million package, has secured $594,329 to develop a high efficiency cell which separates light received so a portion goes to a thermal receiver to be stored as heat in addition to generating electricity.

The FOCUS (full-spectrum optimized conversion and utlization of sunlight) program is one strand of the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Angency-Energy) funding stream which aims to foster innovative energy-related research.

The highest award of the funding round went to Washington state-based Sharp Labs of America which secured $4,182,929 for a solar converter which uses ultraviolet and and most infrared light to heat a thermal fluid and Arizona State University has been awarded $3.9 million to develop a solar cell that can operate at temperatures above 4500c – one of two grants secured by the institution.