Each day in the US, and particularly in the southwest, we receive enormous amounts of energy in the form of light from the sun. Photovoltaic solar cells – or PVs– can capture the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity to power such things as homes, schools, businesses, and portable electronics. The newest PVs being developed only need to contain thin layers of the materials that capture the sun’s energy, and so are called ‘thin-film PVs’.
Today the world consumes energy at an average rate of about fifteen terawatts, with about 85% produced from the burning of fossil fuels. A terawatt is a million-million watts. Thin-film low-cost, area-scalable, PV technologies have the potential to be highly competitive against electricity generated from fossil fuels and eventually enable the U.S. to generate terawatts of solar energy at the less than $1/watt (peak) installed target being promoted by the U.S. Department of Energy's EERE SunShot Initiative. Realizing this goal is critical since our nation’s energy consumption is rising rapidly. The world energy consumption could be as high as an average rate of thirty terawatts by the middle of this century.
Research at the Center for Interface Science: Solar Electric Materials (CISSEM) focuses on improving what happens in new thin-film PVs within regions called “interfaces”. These interfaces form anywhere two different materials are brought into contact with each other. Interfaces are extremely thin, and their thickness is measured on a nanometer length scale. To put this in context one nanometer is about 100,000-times thinner than the width of a human hair. Thin-film PVs contain many different materials, for example metals, dyes, metal oxides, and polymers (plastics). So there are many interfaces in a thin-film PV. Interfaces are important because if they are not optimized they can deleteriously impact the overall performance and ease of manufacturing of PVs. CISSEM is advancing the understanding of interfaces in thin-film PVs so that we can improve PV performance, help lower manufacturing cost, and help lower the cost of transforming the sun’s energy into electricity.
Our center’s research involves well-known and well-respected scientists and engineers located in Arizona, Georgia, Colorado, New Jersey, and Washington: at The University of Arizona, Georgia Institute of Technology, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Princeton University, and the University of Washington. Our budget and expenditures are published at the U.S. government’s official website Recovery.gov. CISSEM welcomes opportunities to interact or collaborate with the public. We can be contacted by email at email@example.com.