Collaborative faculty projects win Renewable Electricity for Minnesota's Future grants

May 24, 2016 - Four collaborative research initiatives have been awarded $717,360 each from the Institute on the Environment’s Renewable Electricity for Minnesota’s Future grant program. Established in 2015, the grant program seeks to support interdisciplinary projects that increase market penetration of renewable electric energy resources. Two of the four award-winning projects involve CEMS faculty members and seek to advance a novel strategy for producing low-cost photovoltaic cells and find new ways to turn heat into electricity .

Eray Aydil, CEMS professor and Ronald A. and Janet L. Christianson Chair in Renewable Energy, Laura Gagliardi, Distinguished McKnight University Professor in Chemistry, and Chris Leighton, Distinguished McKnight University Professor in CEMS, and project partners, tenK Solar Inc. and Physical Electronics Inc., were awarded a grant for "Pyrite iron disulfide: Low-cost solution for renewable electricity." This project will pursue the development of pyrite iron disulfide (FeS2), an Earth-abundant chemical, as a sustainable light-absorbing material for low-cost solar cells. Capitalizing on their recent discoveries, the researchers will investigate two related approaches to making pyrite-based solar cells that have never previously been possible: making solar cells only from FeS2 and combining FeS2 with silicon to reduce the cost of commercial silicon solar cells.

Richard James, Distinguished McKnight University Professor in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics, Bharat Jalan, assistant professor in CEMS, and project partner Daikin Applied (formerly McQuay International) will develop devices to convert waste heat to electricity. Their research method uses thin crystalline films that can convert common natural and waste heat sources (such as air conditioning systems) to electricity.

“These projects show great promise to produce tangible, low-cost technologies to move Minnesota into the next generation of electricity generation,” said Institute on the Environment managing director and Chief Operating Officer Lewis Gilbert. “Involving businesses in the development of these technologies has the advantage of testing on-the-ground scenarios where they have a better chance of being more quickly adopted and used.”

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