Solar energy

The College of Engineering and Computational Sciences Senior Design Trade Fair is an opportunity for Colorado School of Mines students to showcase projects that they have been working on with a client during the past two semesters. Nine teams presented their work, while judges consisting of faculty and alumni graded them on their ability to define, analyze and address a design problem and to present their work through display and dialogue.

Trade Fair Results

  • 1st Place: CSM FlightLab
    • Client: Mounir Zok, Faculty Advisor: Joel Bach, Consultant: Sam Strickling
    • Team Members: Michael Blaise, Adam Casanova, Andrew Eberle, Ryan Elliott, Kelli Kravetz and Perry Taga
  • 2nd Place: JB Engineering
    • Client: Edge of Seven, Faculty Advisor: Judy Wang, Consultants: Joe Crocker and Juan Lucena
    • Team Members: Matthew Craighead, Steven Johnson, Ali Khavari, Brian Klatt and Jasmine Solis
  • 3rd Place: AutoBots
    • Client: Jered Dean, Faculty Advisor: Judy Wang, Consultant: Jenifer Blacklock
    • Team Members: Arveen Amiri, Dorian Illing, Adriana Johnson, Keeranat Kolatat and Jennifer McClellan
  • 4th Place: SolTrak
    • Client: iDE, Faculty Advisor: Judy Wang, Consultant: David Frossard
    • Team Members: Miranda Barron, Lincoln Engelhard, Oluwaseun Ogunmodede, Brenda, Ramirez Rubio, Eric Rosing and Kevin Wagner

Broader Impacts Essay Results

  • 1st Place: Jace Warren for "The World Cup, It's Not Rocket Science"
  • 2nd Place: Aaron Heldmyer for "The Modern Renaissance Men and Women"
  • 3rd Place: Jennifer McClellan for "Engineering Modern Vehicles for First Responders"

Winning teams will receive plaques at the post-graduation banquet in December.

You be the judge. Listen to two teams present their projects at the Senior Design Trade Fair.

Senior Design Project: SolTrak

Senior Design Project: CSM Outreach Engineering

View more information about the Senior Design Program.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu

To kick off Alumni Weekend, the College of Engineering and Computational Science (CECS) hosted the Senior Design Trade Fair on April 24 in Lockridge Arena. Seventy alumni judges evaluated 42 design teams as they presented their projects. Teams were scored on their project content, design content, poster and display, dialogue and overall impression. Five teams were selected as overall trade fair winners.

“I'm extremely proud of the teams that presented at Trade Fair and all of the work that went in to their final projects,” said Jered Dean, mechanical engineering professor. “While the competition was close, the CSM FourCross team stood out because of the way that they balanced the needs of all the stakeholders in the design to arrive at a simple, practical solution.”

Overall Trade Fair Winners

1st Place (CSM FourCross – Team 11)

  • Emily Hixon
  • Abigail Krycho
  • Clayton Boatwright
  • Jacqueline Stabell
  • Hannah Margheim
  • William Pietra
  • Brian Stack

2nd Place (Wingin' It - Team 35)

  • Gabriel Alvarado
  • Andrew Boissiere
  • Ashley Hertzler
  • Mathew Jirele
  • Kit Lewis
  • James Wilkerson
  • Matthew Brady
  • Richard Nguyen

3rd Place (Zephyrus - Team 42)

  • Cabe Bonner
  • Kelsey Wokasch
  • Alex Dell
  • Jyotsana Gandhi
  • Katherine Rooney
  • Aaron Troyer
  • Jeremy Webb
  • Zachary Weber
  • Kevin Tan

4th Place (OmniPumps - Team 31)

  • Eric Chapa
  • Nicole Davis
  • Aaron Faulkner
  • Adam Mowery
  • Logan Ramseier

Kid's Choice (Colorado AdvantEdge - Team 6)

  • Erika Blair
  • Katherine Poffenbarger
  • Kendrick Stalnaker
  • Justin Loeffler
  • Michaela Hammer
  • Julia Morin
  • Kevin Tornes

Essay Contest Winners

  • 1st Place: "Fun Theory" by Dustin Burner
  • 2nd Place: "How a Camera Mount Revolutionized Video and Internet Content" by Benjamin Paley
  • 3rd Place: "Mile Per Gallon Readouts: Changing Driving Behavior Through Feedback" by Kevyn Young

Background
Each year senior students in the civil, electrical, environmental, and mechanical engineering programs in the CECS take a two-semester course sequence in engineering design targeted at enhancing their problem-solving skills. Corporations, government agencies and other professional organizations, as well as individual clients, provide projects for the student teams of five to eight students to work on. Students spend the academic year developing solutions for the projects to which they have been assigned, using tools they have learned throughout their careers at Mines.

View a full list of projects. Check out Mines Radio, The Blastercast, to listen to interviews with the team.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

Researchers at Colorado School of Mines are discovering ways to make longer lasting lithium batteries and new ceramics for armors, windows and fuel cells.

“The possibility for opening up new applications in energy are huge,” Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Associate Professor Brian Gorman said.

Gorman and his team have recently proven that, for the first time, the full periodic table can be examined in ceramics by counting atoms one at a time. They are using new equipment to look at an atom’s arrangement and predict the properties of the material.

“We can start to determine electrical resistivity, ionic conductivity, how well it conducts oxygen or hydrogen and start to determine how strong it is,” Gorman said.

Their research isn’t done on a computer, but rather on real materials using a combined electron microscope and atom probe instrument. The team is able to study why the strongest ceramics break and why certain solar cells produce more electrical current.

Last fall, Gorman received a grant from the National Science Foundation to build the instrument. While there are eight atom probe instruments being used at U.S. universities, Mines is developing the world’s first atom probe instrument with an electron microscope attached. This equipment allows his team to heat and cool specimens at a rate of 10 trillion degrees per second, fast enough to “freeze” individual atoms as they move in a solid.

Gorman’s collaborators at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) develop high efficiency, low cost solar cells. In a new program funded by the Department of Energy, Gorman and his NREL collaborators are working to understand why current cannot escape the solar cell efficiently. Understanding these materials at the atomic scale will allow companies to produce solar cells with much higher efficiencies.

The materials in this device are Cadmium Telluride. 



“The highest efficiency devices that have been made so far are around 18 percent, meaning only 18 percent of the sunlight that hits the solar panel generates electrical current,” Gorman said. “Our new program allows us to understand why out of place atoms reduce this efficiency. Ultimately, we are aiming to improve efficiency to 24 percent in three years.”

Graduate student Adam Stokes works on the research team with Gorman. He analyzes grain boundaries in a different solar absorber material, also in relation to how efficient solar cells can be made. The equipment allows Stokes to narrow down at an atomic level what exists in the material.

“The atom probe is very unique in that the resolution spatially is amazing, as well as the chemical sensitivity,” Stokes said. “You can analyze materials at a really fundamental level that you can’t do anywhere else.”

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

As it’s often said, the real world can be the best classroom. That’s precisely the idea behind an assignment students in Teaching Professor Chuck Stone’s ENGY 320 Renewable Energy course received: to individually design their own field trips to companies or organizations involved in renewable energy or sustainability and come back with a report.

“It was wide open,” said Stone as students showed off their posters and reports during the Forum on Renewable Energy at Colorado School of Mines, Dec. 6. “If I had told them what to do we wouldn’t have this depth and breadth of projects here. I was incredibly impressed with the variety and creativity.”

The field trips took students from solar companies to train stations and even elementary schools.

Senior Katherine Bony contacted engineers at Wheat Ridge based Major Geothermal learning how engineers at the company access heat energy from below the earth’s surface.

“I learned all about the different types of geothermal [systems]. I originally thought there was only vertical, but there’s horizontal, there are slinky loops. It all depends on the thermal conductivity of the ground,” said Bony.

Bony’s experience also led to an internship opportunity with the company.

Senior Kristen Heiden reported on her experience working with civil engineers working on the LEED certification for the Union Station redevelopment project in Denver.

“What I think is really neat is Union Station has a big waste management system,” said Heiden. “They use waste material to help in the construction, but they also recycle a lot of it.”

Heiden also learned how engineers are making the building greener by installing skylights, improving indoor air quality with large fans and planting gardens outside the station.

“It’s a great look at what we can look forward to as engineers when we’re actually designing things,” said Heiden.

Other projects showcased included a bike that measures electrical energy produced from pedaling. The project could be taken to middle and elementary schools as an interactive lesson about energy.

Stone’s ENGY 320 Renewable Energy class is part of the energy minor at Colorado School of Mines. For more information, click here.

Take a look at a solar panel on a sunny Colorado day and, if you’re like most people, you won’t see much more than a blinding glare. Mark Lusk sees wasted opportunity.

“I see that glare and feel how hot the panels on my roof get and say, ‘What a waste! We’re losing energy!’” says Lusk, a Mines physics professor and solar energy researcher, who admits to checking out his panels and their energy output more than most. On a clear day, he explains, only a fraction of the photons hitting the photovoltaic cells on his roof are converted into electricity—the rest bounce off as light or are lost as heat. On a cloudy day, or as dusk approaches, the long-wavelength, low-energy particles of light are scarcely enough to produce any juice at all. On average, just 20 percent of the sun’s rays actually get converted to energy in a contemporary solar cell.

“In terms of efficiency, there is a lot of room for improvement up there,” he says.

Fueled by a six-year, $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Lusk and his colleagues at the Renewable Energy Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (REMRSEC) have spent the last four years working to improve that efficiency via a complex merging of nanotechnology, quantum physics and computational wizardry known as “exciton engineering.”

The nascent and controversial field hinges on the manipulation of “excitons”—the combination of an excited electron and the hole from which it is dislodged by an incoming photon. In conventional photovoltaic cells, the exchange is generally one-for-one; upon impact, a photon creates an exciton, which sends a highly energized electron racing into an electrical circuit.

Continue reading in Mines Magazine...

 

Learn more about Mines research in renewable energy here.

Sit down and talk with Mines undergraduate student Paul Levi Miller and you will notice right away he is very enthusiastic about science.

“I like science a lot, but I also like science that can help people,” said Miller, a senior engineering physics major. “Renewable energy will solve a lot of our problems at a very fundamental level.”

As an undergrad, Miller is working directly on game changing research. Together with Physics Professor Reuben Collins, he studies nano crystalline silicon, a material of particular interest to scientists for its potential to improve solar cell efficiency by preventing energy from being wasted to heat “just by taking advantage of energy that is already interacting with these materials.”

Miller’s undergraduate research began when he was a sophomore and participated in a National Science Foundation funded Research Experience for Undergrads (REU) program at Mines’ Renewable Energy Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (REMRSEC). It was a 10-week summer session allowing him to direct his own research project for the first time.

“I started from not really knowing how research worked to actually becoming a researcher who is pretty self-sufficient, who could come up with questions and figure out ways to answer them. And that’s really what research is all about,” he said.

The experience was a springboard to other opportunities, approaching professors to participate in their research projects and even working on a paper currently under review to be published in Nature.

Miller’s experience underscores an aspect of the institutional culture of Mines where professors and research projects are accessible and an undergraduate’s experience can be determined simply by initiative and desire to get involved in on-going scientific study.

Miller said his undergraduate research experience put him in a different league when applying to graduate schools — he was accepted to all four of the schools to which he applied. He plans to attend the University of California, Santa Barbara.

This article appears in the 2012-13 issue of Energy and the Earth magazine.

October 2011 was an exciting month, not only for Mines, the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and the state of Colorado, but for solar energy in general. Coming off the purchase of Colorado-based PrimeStar Solar, Inc., General Electric (GE) announced it would build a $300 million photovoltaic (PV) production plant in Aurora, Colo. — the largest of its kind in the U.S.

It was a mix of institutions, knowledge and bright people that brought GE into the solar industry with such an investment. The backstory begins in 1996 with a Mines graduate student named Joe Beach, who is now a Mines research professor.

“The reason I came to Mines was because I was looking for ways to get into renewable energy,” said Beach. “At that time Mines was one of the few places that actually talked about it.”

In the early 1990s, the Department of Physics at Mines formed a research program in Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) technology, which is now considered one of the most cost effective thin film PV technologies available. The research began with Dr. John Trefny, who later became head of the Department of Physics and then president of the university. That research was funded by the Thin Film Photovoltaic Partnership Program, which was managed by NREL. By the time Beach started work on the program, shortly after earning his PhD, leadership had been handed off to Associate Professor Tim Ohno. It was in working with Ohno that Beach met graduate student Fred Seymour.

“I had an interest in moving laboratory research into commercial work and it turns out Fred Seymour did too,” said Beach.

Seymour and Beach collaborated to form a small business called PV Technologies, receiving two SBIR grants from the National Science Foundation and beginning work in Mines laboratories. However, they lacked manufacturing experience, and for that they turned to Russell Black and his company called Ziyax, which had expertise in large-scale deposition of thin films of semiconductors and metals on glass. They named this new venture PrimeStar Solar and began hunting for investors.

“The thing that people were just starting to realize at that time is that to have a successful PV company it takes between $500 million and $1 billion in investment,” said Beach.

GE was interested in investing in the solar market, having shopped for opportunities at other institutions in Colorado. Ultimately, however, GE approached PrimeStar and became the largest investor before purchasing the company in April 2011 and announcing its plans to ramp up production with the construction of the largest PV manufacturing plant in the U.S. PrimeStar Solar is now part of GE, and Fred Seymour is general manager of Solar Technology for GE Energy – Renewables.

“The big thing that the research here at Mines did for PrimeStar is it produced people with excellent technical skills,” said Beach, who added that the company licensed its patents from NREL, which has been active in CdTe research since the early 1980s. “You’ve got to have the right combination of engineering expertise, science expertise, entrepreneurial interest and willingness to just doggedly pursue a problem. It will make or break the transition from a laboratory technology to something that is viable commercially.”

In isolation this is a success story, yet much of the U.S. solar industry is struggling. First Solar reported its first losing quarter at the end of 2011, while Abound Solar halted production of its first-generation panel and cut roughly 180 jobs at its Loveland, Colo., facilities. California-based Solyndra filed for bankruptcy and shut its doors after receiving more than $500 million in federal government loans.

At the macro level, however, there are economic challenges at play.

“The overall PV industry problems are due to a 50 percent overcapacity right now,” said Beach. “There really isn’t a barrier to entry in the market.”

Debate continues on whether China presents unfair competition. Chinese manufacturers get extremely cheap loans and do not pay income taxes. This gives them a significant cost advantage without requiring any technology advantage, and has caused resentment and charges of dumping by some other PV manufacturers. Taking cues from the history of foreign car manufacturers in the U.S., Chinese PV companies began building assembly plants in their sales markets. This reduces shipping and working capitol costs and creates manufacturing jobs in the sales markets.

Further increasing the complexity of the issue, struggling American photovoltaic start-up companies, such as Ascent Solar (another Colorado company with ties to Mines), have been supported financially by investment from Chinese firms.

Much is to be determined in the photovoltaic energy game and, as it has in the past, Mines will play a leadership role moving forward.

"We are clearly at a challenging time in the PV world,” said John Poate, vice president for research and technology transfer at Mines. “The modern PV cell was invented at Bell Labs in 1954. CdTe is another pioneering U.S. technology. It is essential that we compete successfully in this industry, which we invented. To do this we will need a coherent national strategy to stay ahead of the game.”

This article appears in the 2012-13 issue of Energy and the Earth magazine.

This is a story of humans and hardware. What happened when professors, tops in their different fields of energy research, gained campus access to a world-class supercomputer?

The story began four years ago with the institutional vision to bring a supercomputer named Ra to Mines. Dag Nummedal, director of the Colorado Energy Research Institute, and Physics Professor Mark Lusk had been working to acquire a supercomputer, and when Vice President of Research and Technology Transfer John Poate got involved, “the idea resonated campus-wide,” said Lusk.

With the horsepower of Mines leadership behind this well-timed initiative, it became a commitment to much more than hardware. Five years, one supercomputer, 10 new faculty hires, 15 classes, 60 PhD students and 120 journal publications since that original vision, Mines has become a global leader in computationally guided energy science research.

The initiative has made a huge impact on research volume, led to many important discoveries, and catalyzed interdisciplinary collaboration across campus. More than 90 percent of Mines’ academic departments are pursuing projects supported by the Golden Energy Computing Organization. As scientists from different areas come together, ideas begin to cross-fertilize and surprising synergies emerge. As Lusk notes, “Once all these people start working together under one virtual roof, good things happen.”

One of the new supercomputer hires was Amadeu Sum, a professor in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department and co-director of Mines’ Center for Hydrate Research. He used Ra to explain the nucleation and growth of hydrates, and his work landed on the cover of Science.

On another side of campus, REMRSEC, the Renewable Energy Materials Research Science & Engineering Center, was chosen for funding by the National Science Foundation in part due to the computing power Ra could bring to the table. 

Lusk’s solar cell work with REMRSEC on multiple-exciton generation (MEG) was successful. MEG theorizes it is possible for an electron that has absorbed light energy to transfer some of that energy to other electrons, resulting in more electricity from the same amount of absorbed light.

In a cross-fertilizing leap, REMRSEC decided to look at hydrates as a way to store hydrogen. The center provided seed money to Carolyn Koh, a professor in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department, to lead a combined team of REMRSEC solar energy scientists and Center for Hydrate Research experts. Together they developed a computer analysis to assess the potential of hydrates for hydrogen storage.

Then they began thinking of other materials that can be assembled into the cage-like clathrates. Could they build a silicon clathrate structure to store hydrogen? Using experimental facilities at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), they determined the answer was yes.

The synergy continued. What are the photovoltaic properties of these new silicon clathrates? Can they be used to build a better solar cell? The answer, once again, appears to be yes.

In summary, hydrate engineers and solar energy physicists have founded two new facets of energy research because a world-class  supercomputing facility came to Mines. “The successes that have come from our original vision have been snapping together a Lego™ at a time,” said Lusk. “We have a cool system going now and there’s no end in sight.”

 

A New Season

Now plans are underway to purchase a new machine to become the campus flagship for high-performance computing, with Ra maintained as a set of smaller clones for less demanding projects and student training. Requests for bids have gone out to industry, and by autumn 2012 the new machine should be on campus, humming alongside its predecessor.

The next supercomputer will be a radical step forward, with at least five times Ra’s computing power and roughly 16,000 processor cores to Ra’s 2,144. Even so, it will consume just a fraction of Ra’s physical space and electrical power, thanks to technological developments over the past few years.

Ra’s successor will give a boost to many of Mines’ most ambitious efforts, and Lusk predicts the new machine will be the basis for frontier energy research for years to come. “It’s exciting to be part of this vision,” he said. “The campus now fields several big teams that do high performance computing in close collaboration with experimentalists. The original leadership has evolved into some amazing self-assemblies, and I can’t wait to see what advances come out next.”

 

Clathrate Hydrates

Illustration of hydrate nucleationResearchers have achieved the first real insight into the birth and growth of the cage-like structures known as clathrate hydrates. These materials can form naturally —for example, out of natural gas in pi/gas pipelines, where they form an “icy slush” that can accumulate in the pipelines and eventually clog the flow. Using Ra, Mines researchers have been able to simulate for the first time the molecular processes that cause such hydrates to nucleate and grow, adding – atom by atom – to each rigid molecular cage.

It’s not an easy task. Hydrates form out of disordered systems, with atoms starting out adrift and then coming together in precise ways to form a complex network of water molecules enclosing gas molecules. Simulating how that transition happens takes a lot of computing power, said Amadeu Sum. “That’s why we need to use large resources like we have on campus to do these large and long simulations,” he said.

Knowing how hydrates nucleate will help researchers better understand how to prevent/control them from forming and harness them for useful purposes as well. One impactful area for hydrates is the recovery of methane gas from natural hydrate deposits in the permafrost and ocean seafloor, and the utilization of hydrates as an energy storage medium for natural gas and hydrogen.

 

Oil and Gas

With the need for traditional fossil fuels still great, Associate Professor Paul Sava is using Ra to discover new sources of oil and gas. Active in the Center for Wave Phenomena in the Geophysics Department, Sava specializes in developing new methods for probing the earth’s interior with seismic waves. Doing so requires running simulation after simulation of how quickly waves travel through the earth, then comparing those to real-world observations to see how closely the two match.

So far, Sava’s team has been able to refine a flagship exploration technique used in industry. The Mines scientists simulate how rock from inside the planet can be squeezed (like a fluid, as industry models it) or twisted around (like an elastic) — a difference that affects the speed of passing seismic waves. Updating this knowledge allows oil and gas companies to better predict where a promising prospect might turn into a lucrative discovery. “The information relevant to them requires a big computer like this,” Sava said.

 

Hydrology

Mines’ dedication to high-performance computing has helped draw high-profile faculty to the university. “When I showed up, Ra was being unboxed,” said Reed Maxwell, a hydrologist who moved from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

In the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, Maxwell uses Ra to simulate how water flows from deep within the ground to shallower levels, and also from there into the atmosphere. His computer code, dubbed ParFlow, is one of the few such models to integrate this entire hydrologic cycle. Maxwell has used ParFlow to explore all sorts of important questions, such as how agriculture draws down groundwater and how changes in hydrology affect local atmospheric patterns —for example, the wind energy potential over a particular plot of land.

Because his simulations require so much computing power, Maxwell uses not just Ra but also several other supercomputers, including ones at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and at a facility in Jülich, Germany. “I always envision running on a range of supercomputers,” he said.

Most recently, Maxwell has built a high-resolution hydrological model of the entire continental United States, which covers 6.3 million square kilometers at a resolution of 1 kilometer. This simulation, which he said is one of hydrology’s “grand challenges,” is tied into leading climate models so that Maxwell can, for example, probe how water flow may affect regional climate change in the decades to come.

 

Materials

From the scale of continents down to the scale of nanoparticles, Ra’s simulations are doing it all. For Cristian Ciobanu, a materials scientist in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Mines’ computing resources involve the very small. He works to understand the basic chemistry and physics of materials crucial for energy applications, from lithium-ion batteries to biomass to solar cells. “In all these cases, the campus facility is important,” Ciobanu says. “It’s basically a lot of computing power on site, and you can do things faster, closer to real time.”

For instance, he and his collaborators at NREL have shown that using a material as common as quartz can lead to an increase in the capacity of lithium-ion batteries over the first couple hundred cycles of charging and discharging, thus hinting at new ways to prolong battery life. Other simulations have shown that adding nanoparticles of gold or other precious metals to a particular chemical process speeds up the reaction, while also making it yield a desired reaction product, hastening the conversion of biomass into energy. Ciobanu is now running calculation after calculation on Ra to find the best possible shape and composition for nanoparticles to catalyze the biomass conversion reactions. With such information, an experimentalist can make nanoparticles that work efficiently the first time around, without having to run though the trial-and-error of testing particle after particle in real life.

For solar cells, Ciobanu has been testing how to make the perfect nanoparticles out of germanium and tin with the best electronic properties for absorbing light. Such alternative materials might be used in future photovoltaic cells, especially if they can be designed through supercomputer simulations and then tailor-made to fit those designations.

 

Photovoltaics

Lusk is also using the power of Ra to figure out how to make better photovoltaics. In 2011, he and colleagues discovered one way to beef up the efficiency with which a solar cell transforms sunlight into energy. Supercomputer simulations done at Mines suggest that in a specially designed material, a particle of light (photon) can knock loose not just one electron (its flow creates the electricity that powers solar cells) but two or more, in a process known as multiple exciton generation. The set of excited electrons would turn more of the original solar energy into useful electricity because not as much is lost to generate heat.

The race is now on to make better photovoltaic materials by exploiting multiple exciton generation and other quirky quantum mechanical properties that Lusk’s team has discovered. They use Ra to model how to best design what amounts to a new form of matter composed of quantum dots. These tiny particles, just a nanometer or two across, both help to capture solar energy and to move it through the solar cell to create useful current.

Lusk is also looking to build on nature’s own solar cell — the leaf — by co-opting its photosynthetic tricks. Nature has evolved some very clever ways of harvesting solar energy, but its solar panels don’t last very long. “We’re using the computer to unravel some of the quantum mechanical secrets that are going on all around us. And then we want to use that information to build inorganic solar cells that do the same thing better and without wearing out as easily,” Lusk said.

 

This article appears in the 2012-13 issue of Energy and the Earth magazine.

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