Grants & Awards

Scialog: Collaborative Teams

Awardee Profiles (2012)

Come see what's hot in science. RCSA's Awardee Profiles illustrates what leading scientists are discovering and teaching and how their work continues to shape our world. Additional awardee profiles can be found in the Awards Database.

Supramolecular Non-Fullerene Electron Acceptors for Organic PVs – A Pathway Toward 20% Efficient Cells

These researchers hope to see their work yield solar cells that could produce electricity below the current U.S. government target of 50 cents per watt for photovoltaic module costs. This cost is expected to be the turning point in making solar power economically feasible. To do this, they will take a bold approach at creating what are called organic bulk heterojunction (BHJ) photovoltaics. Today’s high-efficiency organic photovoltaic devices use fullerenes (also called buckyballs) – a caged structure of generally 60 to 84 carbon atoms that constitutes the third form of carbon after diamond and graphite. But fullerenes don’t lend themselves to large scale production processes and are therefore expensive to make and purify. In addition, they are not efficient absorbers of visible light, the main source of photovoltaic energy. To overcome these limitations and other technical speed bumps, the research team will explore new and inexpensive processes to improve key molecular structures and functions within BHJs. If fullerenes could be replaced by stable, inexpensive and efficient materials, team members said, they expect the overall cost of solar-generated electricity to drop below the U.S. targets of 50 cents per watt for photovoltaic module costs.

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Photo-induced CO2 Reduction Using Reverse TCA Cycle Enzymes

Understanding how Nature captures and converts the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into plant material, or biomass, remains a major challenge to researchers working in the energy sciences. Through the process of photosynthesis plants use sunlight to break down CO2 and reform it, with the addition of oxygen and hydrogen, to make glucose. Particles of light (photons) hit atoms in the plant, freeing the atoms’ electrons to do the work of photosynthesis. Current attempts to imitate Nature’s ability to convert CO2 are simply not very efficient. Elliott and Dukovic will be studying how specific enzymes perform this task. Furthermore, the pair will attempt to improve on Nature by incorporating into the process semiconductor nanocrystals – tiny artificial particles -- to boost the input of photons/electrons into the enzymes that break down CO2. If this project is successful, it might one day lead to the development of more efficient ways to use CO2 to produce renewable fuels, while also removing it from the atmosphere.

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BaSI2 - a NEW earth-Abundant Solar Cell Material

The team will design and test BaSi2, a compound of barium and silicon, respectively the 14th- and second-most abundant elements in earth’s crust, for use as the light-absorbing material in solar cells. The source for much of their raw material can be diatomaceous earth, basically the silica-rich shells of diatoms, one of the most common types of phytoplankton. Diatomaceous earth is widely available and used in many large scale applications including food processing and pharmaceuticals. Although BaSi2 is thought to have several key physical properties that make it ideal as a light absorber, relatively little is actually known about the barium-silicon compound, both in terms of its suitability for solar energy applications and the most efficient methods to synthesize it . The team hopes to better understand the properties of this material and explore its applications in solar cells.

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