Latest ARPA-E Awards Feature Several Pioneering Solar Technologies


U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu has announced 66 cutting-edge research projects selected by the DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) to receive a total of $130 million in funding through its OPEN 2012 program.

ARPA-E seeks out transformational, breakthrough technologies that show fundamental technical promise but are too early for private-sector investment, the DOE explains. These projects have the potential to produce game-changing breakthroughs in energy technology, form the foundation for entirely new industries and have large commercial impacts.

The OPEN 2012 projects are based in 24 states, with approximately 47% of the projects led by universities, 29% by small businesses, 15% by large businesses, 7.5% by national labs and 1.5% by non-profits. They include several projects that will focus on the development of new solar technologies.

– The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will receive $800,000 to develop a new approach to enhance the efficiency of low-cost plastic solar cells using specially engineered photonic structures to capture a larger part of the solar spectrum. NREL's approach could triple the efficiency of plastic photovoltaics, according to the DOE.

– The California Institute of Technology (CalTech) will receive $2.4 million to develop an optical device that focuses and splits sunlight into individual color bands to improve the efficiency of solar electricity generation. Once light is separated into colors, CalTech's tailored solar cells match each separated color band to improve the overall efficiency of solar energy conversion.

– The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) will receive $3.7 million to develop a method to capture energy from wind vortices that harvest the thin layer of hot air along the ground created by the sun. If successful, Georgia Tech's approach is expected to cost 25% less than conventional wind and 60% less than traditional solar power.

– Glint Photonics Inc. will receive $523,172 to develop a solar concentrator that can capture the full amount of available sunlight regardless of the sun's position. Unlike today's technology, this concentrator does not require complex moving parts to track the sun's movements, the DOE notes.

– MicroLink Devices will receive $3,316,705 to develop high-efficiency solar cells to capture concentrated sunlight with a unique blend of crystal layers in an innovative design. These cells are expected to improve concentrated photovoltaic products to increase the amount of energy generated from solar power plants.

– Otherlab Inc. will receive $1.6 million to develop an inexpensive method to reflect sunlight onto a solar tower using small mirrors. Otherlab's hydraulic drivers, made with low-cost plastic parts, precisely position smaller energy-collecting mirrors to lower solar field costs.

– The University of California, Santa Cruz will receive $1,624,030 to develop an optical device for harvesting concentrated sunlight into optical fibers, solar cells and thermal storage devices, which maximizes use of the solar spectrum. The optical device uses thin-film materials and structures to transfer and transform concentrated sunlight with minimum losses compared to traditional light concentrating optics.

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