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UD collaborating with LG Innotek on advanced solar cell research

Feb. 24, 2011--When LG Innotek (LGIT), a major electronics manufacturer in South Korea, was seeking a cutting-edge collaborator to explore development of a high-voltage solar cell, they traveled nearly 7,000 miles east of Seoul, to the University of Delaware's Institute of Energy Conversion (IEC).

The UD solar institute -- a U.S. Department of Energy University Center of Excellence for Photovoltaic Research and Education -- recently won a three-year, $780,000 contract from LG Innotek to pursue pioneering research on wide band-gap solar cells, which absorb less sunlight, but produce a higher voltage than solar cells currently on the market.

LG Innotek is among the top-10 electronics manufacturers in the world, producing light-emitting diodes (LEDs) used in flat-screen TVs, semiconductors for automobile motors, and camera sensors for mobile phones, including Apple's latest iPhone, among other products.

“This research collaboration supports LGIT's technology roadmap and gives us yet another pathway to deliver a technology by outsourcing with one of the top solar research labs in the world,” said JinWoo Lee, a research scientist at LG Innotek who is working with IEC.

The UD collaboration evolved after discussions between the company and IEC representatives during the past year and reciprocal visits by engineering staff from each of the institutions, said William Shafarman, a scientist at IEC who also has an appointment in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UD.

In this project, Shafarman is leading a team of IEC researchers and two graduate students in materials science and engineering.

The UD team will experiment with replacing the elements in thin-film copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) solar cells with other elements to achieve a higher voltage, as well as test new solar cell designs. This work will build on promising results from a recently completed project at IEC supported by the Department of Energy.

Although most CIGS solar cell modules require two pieces of glass, one above and one underneath the solar cell, one focus of the program will be to develop a superstrate solar cell structure, which requires only one sheet of glass, on the light-exposed side of the cell, Shafarman said.

“At the end of the project, we'll be combining these ideas to make tandem solar cells, which stack one solar cell on top of the other. The solar cell on top absorbs some of the light, and the cell underneath absorbs the rest. IEC has done pioneering work in this type of solar cell area since the 1980s,” Shafarman noted.

“This project will draw on IEC's extensive background in thin-film solar cells and will enable us to revisit research we did over two decades ago,” said Robert Birkmire, IEC director. “It's an exciting project, and we are looking forward to collaborating with LG Innotek.”

IEC also has projects under way through competitive research grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is the independent research branch of the U.S. Department of Defense; the U.S. Department of Energy; and several companies in the United States and abroad.