Researchers from the University of Houston are joining 10 other universities and 50 private companies on a quest to overcome technological barriers to generating more solar power. By “quest,” we mean QESST – the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies Engineering Research Center. The consortium is focusing on promoting the commercialization of photovoltaic (PV) technologies “through cutting-edge research, partnerships with industry and expanding educational opportunities in energy engineering”. Funding for the Engineering Research Center (ERC) was announced this summer, through a $18.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.
The consortium will be led by Arizona State University, and will employ researchers in materials science and quantum mechanics and seek partnerships with companies to commercialize advanced technologies. Houston physicist and QESST principal investigator Alex Freundlich and his team will conduct research on nanomaterials that could lead to efficiency and cost breakthroughs in PV devices.
According to Freundlich, QESST is unique because it is the first ERC to be jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy, and it is also the first ERC in the nation with a mandate to focus exclusively on solar energy. The grant will fund the ERC for five years.
According to the University of Houston, Freundlich already has several patents licensed to companies, and has a strong track record in transferring technology from the lab to the industry. “All of the academic affiliates in this project have established themselves as key players in the solar photovoltaic arenas,” said Freundlich. “In tackling the grand challenge of making solar energy more affordable, the center will build its research and development efforts on three vertically integrated thrusts that will address barriers from basic science to devices all the way to terawatt scale manufacturing.”