UH physics applies solar research

A UH physics professor has partnered with a solar powered-technology company to research efficient solar cells.

QuantaSol, a United Kingdom-based company, entered into an agreement with physics and electrical and computer engineering professor Alex Freundlich to research a new generation of solar cells.

‘A sabbatical 20 years ago brought me to Houston from France, when at the time Houston was one of few places in the world to find a steady support for solar energy research,’ Freundlich said. ‘Since the early days of the space program, solar cells have been the workhorse of space exploration and the need of satellites with more onboard power has fueled high-risk research in solar cells.

‘In the past few decades, most major advances in the area of high-efficiency solar cells came from space development and exploration.’

Freundlich connected with thee co-founder of QuantaSol, Keith Barnham, at the National Center for Scientific Research when Freundlich worked as a staff scientist on solar cells.

‘Keith convinced me that low-dimensional structures held a promise for great improvements in solar cells. As a physicist, these quantum structures opened access to refreshing and sophisticated device physics,’ Freundlich said. ‘I believe that over the years the type of science that Keith and I have dedicated our (careers) to has not only produced remarkable device results, but created an excellent opportunity for the intellectual development of students and faculty involved in these projects.’

At UH, Freundlich tested his experimental solar cells on a NASA space shuttle in 1995.

‘In collaboration with our colleagues from the Naval Research laboratories, we demonstrated that the solar cells were superior to their conventional counterparts by a factor of two in terms of space radiation tolerance,’ Freundlich said. ‘Usually, you start working two to three years before patents, so with a project that started in 1992, we filed the original patent in 1995, and were awarded the patent in 1998.’

The research agreement between QuantaSol and UH will focus on cost-effective methods of making more efficient solar cells.

‘This collaboration and commercialization of technology in solar cells from the laboratory to the marketplace in this worldwide license agreement with QuantaSol demonstrates the quality of research conducted at the University of Houston,’ UH Vice President for research Donald Birx said. ‘These joint efforts will advance solar cell technology and help increase our use of renewable resources with breakthroughs at the level of device design, involving novel semiconductor approaches at the nano-material level.’

Freundlich said he looks forward to the development of the gathering of solar energy.

‘The sun is the most abundant source of energy available and will be available long after we are gone,’ Freundlich said. ‘The sun is going to shine for another 5 to 6 billion years. I am very happy to see a breakthrough in solar energy that improves our way of life and quality of life.’

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