University of Toledo lands $7.4M Air Force grant to develop more efficient solar cells
By TOM HENRY | The Blade, Toledo, Ohio | Published: August 10, 2019
TOLEDO, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — The University of Toledo’s long commitment to solar power has led to a whopping $7.4 million grant over five years to have its physics and astronomy department try to develop lighter and more efficient solar cells for the Air Force.
Tandem technology cells the department is being asked to produce could someday become a primary source of energy used to keep satellites in orbit. Or they could be used to help power manned fighter jets used in combat, or large military drones used for surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
“We’re really excited about this award,” Randall Ellingson, UT physics and astronomy professor, said.
The award will support the work of eight UT faculty members, each of whom will have graduate students working for them. So the project will likely involve 20 to 25 people at any given time, and 50 to 60 people over the life of the grant, he said.
UT’s research could help the United States enter a new era and build upon what the late Toledo-area inventor Harold McMaster did years ago when he pioneered the thin-film solar technology that made solar tech more affordable for widespread commercial use.
The physics and astronomy department will try to develop solar cells out of lighter and more flexible materials than glass, such as certain ceramics, and will try to stack them in a way in which more wavelengths from sunlight can be absorbed.
If successful, such a design could greatly improve solar cell efficiency
“The students are at the heart of this,” Ellingson said.
The team’s findings will be unclassified and thus publicly available to be shared with other researchers in hopes of advancing solar technology in general.
“These are very complicated systems,” Ellingson said. “But this strong base of knowledge and expertise allows us to do this for the Air Force.”
The Air Force prefers more solar power and fewer liquid fuels for many of its vehicles. UT also will be asked to develop solar cells that withstand extreme temperature swings and the intense radiation of outer space, he said.
“We’re honored and appreciative of the opportunity to do this research,” Ellingson said. “It shows they have confidence in us.”
He said the ultimate goal is “to protect our troops and enhance national security by accelerating the performance of solar cells.”
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D.-Toledo, said the grant is another tribute to UT’s solar research.
“The University of Toledo is a worldwide leader driving innovation in photovoltaics research, education and application,” Miss Kaptur said.
Frank Calzonetti, UT vice president for research, agreed the award speaks to the Air Force’s “confidence in our research team.”