Solar energy

A solar-powered LED system that alerts motorists to cyclists in bike lanes won the Colorado Department of Transportation’s RoadX challenge May 3, 2017, part of the spring innovation design competition for the EPICS 151 course at Colorado School of Mines.

Nineteen teams of Colorado School of Mines students exhibited their design solutions for the Colorado Department of Transportation’s RoadX challenge May 3, 2017, as part of the spring innovation design competition for the EPICS 151 course.

EPICS courses are required for all Mines students, with the centerpiece an open-ended design problem that students must solve as part of a team effort.

More than 500 students organized into 40 teams participated in the RoadX challenge to increase pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

All teams presented their ideas to judges on May 2; judges then selected 19 finalists who exhibited their designs May 3. After two rounds of judging, the winning teams were Team Guardian Angels in third place, Team Illuminatey in second and Team Side Swipers Safety in first. These top three teams were awarded scholarships totaling $1,750 and invited to attend the RoadX awards event in late May.

Team Guardian Angels created a crosswalk that illuminates pedestrians when it’s dark and tracks them as they cross the road. Team Illuminatey’s project, called Lit Lanes, is a strip of LED lights that run along bikes lanes and are activated in segments as a bicyclist passes them, creating an active, moving light strip that follows the biker’s path. Team Side Swipers’ winning design is a solar-powered LED bicycle alert system to help ensure motorists are aware of a bicycle in a bike lane.

“Our target was for vehicles that turn right without thinking to check for a cyclist approaching in the lane,” said Team Side Swipers member and mechanical engineering freshman Christian Tello. “When vehicles don’t check, it can lead to sideswipes, especially since the bicycles are much smaller than vehicles. With our proactive system, the LED array alerts drivers that a cyclist is inbound and we eliminate the need for humans to check. We used a police light pattern for the LED alerts to take advantage of the psychological effects of police lights and to ensure it catches the eyes of all drivers.”

As part of their course work, teams were required to conduct stakeholder interviews and research before beginning their design solution.

“As we worked on this problem, we began to realize how large this issue is—especially for people who commute by bicycle every day,” said Seamus Millet of Team Illuminatey. “We were happy to try and design a solution that would have a positive impact,”

“This semester’s RoadX challenge was an ideal EPICS I project,” said EPICS Program Director Leslie Light. “EPICS teaches open-ended problem-solving and workplace skills, and this challenge has many different solutions through a variety of disciplines,” she said. “Issues with biker and pedestrian safety affect us all, so the students could also relate to it and see the mark their work can leave on the world around them.”

 

Contact:
Megan Hanson, Communications Manager, Academic Affairs | 303-384-2358 | mhanson@mines.edu
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu

Two Colorado School of Mines PhD students whose theses both take on the challenges of using alternative energy sources have been awarded the Dr. Bhakta Rath and Sushama Rath Research Award, given for dissertations that demonstrate the greatest potential for societal impact.

Vinh Nguyen, chemical engineering, and Michael Wagner, mechanical engineering, will be recognized at the Graduate Commencement Ceremony on May 11.

Nguyen’s thesis concerns the use of methane gas in fuel cells at low temperatures. “It’s very stable, so it’s hard to get energy out,” Nguyen said. Most processes that use methane require temperatures over 500 degrees—not desirable for use in a car, for example. Seeing cars run on fuel cells is what inspired Nguyen to enter the field, join the Colorado Fuel Cell Center at Mines and work with Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor Andrew Herring.
 
“It’s been extremely challenging to more than a generation of chemists and chemical engineers with very minimal success,” said Nguyen. “So when my advisor introduced this, I hesitated. But I was encouraged enough to work on it.”

In his first year, Nguyen was able to extract about 30 times more energy than previous systems, at temperatures between 80 and 160 degrees. Nguyen achieved this by developing a platinum catalyst that is distributed more evenly, using more of its surface area, and developing an ionic liquid that allows the methane gas and the water it needs to oxidize to diffuse at the proper concentrations.

“There’s a competition of transport between the water and the methane going into the fuel cell,” Nguyen said. “Methane is hydrophobic, and water tries to kick methane out, so we need an environment permeable for both at the same time.”

The energy produced is still low compared to hydrogen fuel cells, “but there is a very beginning of hope that methane or natural gas (which is 95 percent methane) is possible to use in a proton exchange membrane fuel cell, and it can be explored more in the future,” Nguyen said.

Large amounts of inexpensive methane are available in the US, so being able to use it more efficiently would be of great benefit. Also, the process emits no polluting gases—just CO2 and water.

“His PhD thesis will eventually result in six or seven high-impact papers that will lay the groundwork for the direct electrochemical utilization of methane,” said Colin Wolden, professor and interim department head of Chemical and Biological Engineering, who nominated Nguyen for the award.

Nguyen holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Colorado at Denver and a master’s in applied chemistry from Colorado School of Mines. He completed his PhD while working full-time as a principal scientist at TDA Research in Wheat Ridge, which he joined right after completing his BS.

“It’s been a challenge to do both work and school at the same time, plus two kids, and I’m glad it’s over,” Nguyen said.

Wagner’s dissertation presents a model for optimizing the dispatching of energy generated from concentrating solar power systems. CSP systems use an array of mirrors to focus the sun’s rays on molten salt, heating it up to over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat stored in the salt can then be used to drive steam turbines and generate electricity.

“Usually, you just run it until it’s gone,” Wagner said. His thesis is part of an overall push to “move the tech from finding out whether you can do it to a market-competitive stage. How do you schedule it to maximize profit from a plant or minimize the cost of running the turbine all the time?” It’s akin to a car engine—sometimes it’s better to keep it running idle to avoid too much stopping and starting, while other situations call for turning it off to avoid wasting fuel.

Wagner wrote software that determines a dispatch strategy over 24 hours, considering factors such as system configuration, storage tank size, production capacities and ramp rates. He applied this model to a CSP plant in Tonopah, Nevada, called Crescent Dunes, one of just a few facilities in the world.

Because of the size of these facilities, they tend to be located in the desert Southwest, on reclaimed farmland or old Air Force bases. Crescent Dunes’ power tower, for example, stands 640 feet tall and is surrounded by 10,347 mirrors.

“The real challenge for CSP is to bring the costs down,” Wagner said. While storing the energy is relatively cheap compared to the batteries required for photovoltaic cells, the infrastructure is expensive.

Wagner’s methods are already being applied to CSP facilities under development. “Mike’s thesis is one of those rare examples where research made it to practice during the time of dissertation,” said Greg Jackson, professor and department head of Mechanical Engineering, who nominated Wagner. “And this in one of the grand engineering challenges for this century—to develop a robust and reliable electric grid based on renewable energy resources.”

Advising Wagner were Professor Alexandra Newman and Associate Professor Robert Braun, both in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Wagner’s thesis fits seamlessly into his work as a mechanical engineer in the Thermal Systems Group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “NREL has been working on CSPs for a while, with research ongoing since the 1970s,” Wagner said. Other avenues of CSP research include overall system optimization and determining which salts to use for heat storage.

Wagner, who holds BS and MS degrees from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, joined NREL in 2009 and worked full-time as he pursued his PhD. In 2012, a month after learning he’d been accepted into the program, he and his wife learned she was pregnant. “It’s been a little bit overwhelming, but the end is near,” Wagner said.

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Assistant Editor, Mines Magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

A group of Colorado School of Mines undergraduate students have spent nearly two years preparing for a competition to build a home that generates as much energy as it consumes, and their work is about to pay off in a “tiny” way.
 
Mines Tiny House, which formed in the fall of 2015 as a way for students to prepare for the 2019 Solar Decathlon, is nearing completion of construction on a 220-square-foot tiny house. 

Mines Tiny House
Mines students installed the windows on the tiny house on a Saturday in April.

 
“We thought of it like a pilot project,” said engineering physics sophomore Katie Schneider, Mines Tiny House co-planning chair. “For the decathlon, the house will be full-size, so building a tiny house first was a great way for us to learn what a big project like that will take, while also showing knowledge and experience for our application into the competition.”
 
The Solar Decathlon, which takes place every two years, challenges teams of students from universities around the country to build a “net-zero home.” For the competition, this is accomplished primarily by the use of solar energy, through solar panels, passive solar heating and other methods.
 
Colorado School of Mines has never competed in the international Solar Decathlon competition, and Schneider noted most teams that apply come from construction or architecture backgrounds, making Mines’ team unique with their engineering and science perspectives. 
 
“We will be one of the most unique teams applying,” said Schneider, who also noted that none of the team members have construction or civil engineering backgrounds, with most of them majoring in engineering physics. 
 
In addition to building the tiny house, the team also submitted a paper for the Race to Zero competition, which asks students to design a full-size, net-zero home, but not actually build it. The team will present their paper next weekend at the competition, which will be held at NREL.
 
“We could not compete in the Solar Decathlon without having done either of these projects,” Schneider said. “Both the tiny house and Race to Zero taught us a lot about time management, organization and preparation, which will be essential for our success moving forward as we submit our application to the Solar Decathlon in October and then hopefully build a full-size home over the next two years.”
 
And while a full-size house is the end-goal, the team is celebrating their smaller success for now. 
 
“We put the windows on last week, and are hoping to have it fully complete by the end of the summer,” Schneider said. Fundraising through the Gold Mine will be used to complete the interior. The team plans to keep the tiny house, which was built on a trailer bed, on the Mines campus as a research lab and for community outreach.
 
“I’m really excited about the opportunities for outreach with the tiny house once it’s completed,” said Schneider, who noted that several community groups, including Boy Scout troops and school groups, have already come out to see their progress. 
 
“Last fall we were invited to be a part of the Golden Solar Homes Tour,” Schneider said. “We were only able to show off our design plans then, but this year we are excited to show the completed house.”
 
They are also hoping to show off the house at the 2017 Solar Decathlon, which will be held in Denver this October. 
 
Their faculty advisor, Physics Professor Tim Ohno, praised the team, made up mainly of freshmen and sophomores, saying that they have overcome a “steep learning curve” and have “pushed their limits” in order to accomplish their goals. 
 
For more information, the team has put together a website on the tiny house at www.minestinyhouse.weebly.com.
 
Contact:
Megan Hanson, Communications Manager, Academic Affairs | 303-384-2358 | mhanson@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
 
 

Ian Lange and Peter Maniloff

Division of Economics and Business professors Ian Lange and Peter Maniloff, in cooperation with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, were awarded a Sloan Foundation grant to host the Colorado Technology Primer for Economists and Social Scientists.

Two one-week sessions will be offered July 31-Aug. 4 and Aug. 14-18 on the Colorado School of Mines campus in Golden. Application materials are due April 25.

The goal of the summer primer is to provide advanced doctoral students and early-career academic professionals with an interdisciplinary (engineering and social science) understanding of electricity distribution systems and the interface of technology and policy. The summer sessions will help participants bridge the gap between economists’ and engineers’ perspectives as well as improve the quality and applicability of their academic research.

The two one-week sessions will essentially be identical, and applicants are asked to choose their preferred week to attend but should also give notice if they are available for either week. If selected, there will be no tuition fee. A small amount of travel and lodging reimbursement will also be available and the decisions on this award will be made concurrent with admission decisions.

The weeklong program will consist of seven lectures by staff members from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, faculty from Colorado School of Mines as well as industry professionals. Additionally, there will be a tour of NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility and National Wind Technology Center that will allow students to see the renewable energy systems and electrical equipment first-hand, supplementing the knowledge gained in the classroom.

The primer will have sessions on:

•          Principles of Power System Planning and Operations

•          Industrial Organization of Electricity Markets

•          Distribution System Principles and the Evolving Interface with the Bulk Power System

•          Determinants of Electricity Demand and their Impact on the Distribution System

•          Critical Issues for Distribution Systems Moving Forward

•          Understanding the Highs and Lows and Overall Challenges of Multidisciplinary Research

APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS
Applicants must be a registered PhD student in economics or a related field and have completed the first two years of coursework, or an early-career academic professional (post-doctoral fellow or assistant professor) in an economics or related university department.

Please submit the following for consideration:

  1. One page cover letter describing research interests in electricity distribution, renewable energy systems or related topics. In an effort to balance class sizes, please include preferred dates, and whether you are available for either session.
  2. Curriculum Vitae

Additionally, PhD students must submit a letter from an advisor or, if an advisor hasn’t been selected yet, a faculty member. This letter should be less than one page and should endorse the application to the summer primer.

The program welcomes individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences and ideas. Participants are expected to learn as much from fellow students as they will from the instructors, and diversity will enrich everyone involved.

Send all application materials electronically in a single PDF file to ilange@mines.edu by April 25. Decisions will be communicated to applicants by May 5. For questions about the program, contact Ian Lange, ilange@mines.edu.

CONTACT
Kelly Beard, Communication Specialist, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3452 | kbeard@mines.edu
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences and Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu

Do you want to help make building the most fuel-efficient vehicle possible? Support the Mines Triathlon Team? With the launch of the spring semester Gold Mine crowdfunding projects there are eight Mines student causes to get behind, no matter where your interests lie.

Colorado School of Mines’ official crowdfunding platform is only in its second semester of operation, but has raised over $32,000 with 16 different teams taking advantage of this new fundraising opportunity so far.

Students and faculty members alike have been planning and working for months to get their ideas off the ground. Spring projects:

- Helping the newly-established Filmmakers at Mines Club purchase essential video and audio equipment to serve as a resource for campus.
- Designing and building an ultra-efficient, battery-powered vehicle to compete in the Shell-Eco Marathon in Detroit, MI.
- Covering registration costs to allow up to 40 students attend the Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Technical Conference in San Antonio, TX.
- Building a footbridge for a remote community in Nicaragua to provide residents access to essential resources. Students will be working through the Mines Without Borders program.
- Furnishing the inside of the Mines Tiny House project to complete the build and prepare the team to compete in the 2019 Solar Decathlon.
- Subsidizing race fees for the athletes of the Mines Club Triathlon Team to allow them to compete in prominent races in the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Triathlon Conference.

 

- Hosting the National Concrete Canoe Competition for the American Society of Civil Engineers on the Mines campus.
- Building an off-road vehicle for the Society of Automotive Engineers Baja Competition.

The majority of projects just launched within the last week. However, two teams are nearing the completion of their campaigns and are looking for a last-minute push through the finish line.

As the exclusive crowdfunding platform for Colorado School of Mines, project creators see many benefits over other crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe. For one, all teams keep 100 percent of what they raise with no fees. Typical crowdfunding sites take anywhere from 6 to 8 percent of the total amount raised.

Additionally, all teams are provided with a dedicated success coach to offer training in best practices and marketing. With this assistance and the backing of the Mines brand, teams hit the ground running with strategies and a community to help them accomplish their goals.

To learn more about crowdfunding at Mines, support the currently active projects, or submit a project of your own, please visit giving.mines.edu/goldmine.

 

Contact: Brandon Farestad-Rittel bfarestadrittel@mines.edu or Rachelle Trujillo rtrujillo@mines.edu

Six Mines graduate students are competing in The Economist's Which MBA case competition, sponsored by NRG Energy, the leading integrated power company in the United States. NRG invited teams from universities across the world to submit a proposal to solve an energy issue, challenging them to create a financial model that enables the development of an energy system.

Team GreatMines is comprised of Micah Gowen, Sadie Fulton and Liam O'Callaghan; Team Westpaw is comprised of Walter Meeker, Phillip Ruban and August Steinbeck, all of whom study Mineral and Energy Economics in the Division of Economics and Business at Colorado School of Mines.

Entries were submitted online via video presentation and a written proposal. NRG will select the best three proposals—first place receives $10,000, second place $5,000, and third place $3,000. In addition, there is a People's Choice Award which is open to the public for voting. The team with the most votes will receive $3,000. You can vote for both Mines teams by visiting economist.com/cleanenergy and selecting Mines under “Participants.”

Learn more about the competition and vote for Mines.

About Mineral and Energy Economics at Mines
Founded in 1969, this world-renowned program in the Division of Economics Business leads to MS and PhD degrees in Mineral and Energy Economics. This program attracts students from all over the world, and Mines MEE alumni are known globally for their career achievements and qualifications. Students gain the skills necessary for understanding the complex interactions of markets and policy that influence the energy, mineral and environmental industries. The program focuses on applied quantitative tools and models that form a foundation for sound business and public policy. Learn more about Mines’ Mineral and Energy Economics program.

PHOTO: Mineral and Energy Economics students Sadie Fulton, Liam O'Callaghan and Micah Gowen (Team GreatMines) and August Steinbeck, Phillip Ruban and Walter Meeker (Team Westpaw) are competing in The Economist Which MBA energy case competition.

CONTACT
Kelly Beard, Communication Specialist, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3452 | kbeard@mines.edu
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences and Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu

Martin Kohn, Dov Quint, August Steinbeck, Muhammad Abdullah Khawar, Phillip Ruban

Mineral and Energy Economics students Martin Kohn, Dov Quint, August Steinbeck, Muhammad Abdullah Khawar and Phillip Ruban placed third the Columbia University Energy Symposium case competition in New York City.

Five Mines graduate students placed third, winning $500 at the Columbia University Energy Symposium case competition in New York City on Feb. 2. Muhammad Abdullah Khawar, Martin Kohn, Dov Quint, Phillip Ruban and August Steinbeck study Mineral and Energy Economics in the Division of Economics and Business at Colorado School of Mines.

This competition allowed teams to present creative and innovative solutions for critical challenges facing the energy and environment sectors. Students also had the opportunity to interact with professionals, professors and students in the energy sector.

Learn more about the Columbia University Energy Symposium.

About Mineral and Energy Economics at Mines
Founded in 1969, this world-renowned program in the Division of Economics Business leads to MS and PhD degrees in Mineral and Energy Economics. This program attracts students from all over the world, and Mines MEE alumni are known globally for their career achievements and qualifications. Students gain the skills necessary for understanding the complex interactions of markets and policy that influence the energy, mineral and environmental industries. The program focuses on applied quantitative tools and models that form a foundation for sound business and public policy. Learn more about Mines’ Mineral and Energy Economics MS and PhD programs.

CONTACT
Kelly Beard, Communication Specialist, Division of Economics and Business | 303-273-3452 | kbeard@mines.edu
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu


[Updated Nov. 2, 2016]

Mineral and Energy Economics MS students Bansidhar Bandi, James Crompton, Martin Kohn, Ashwin Ravichandran and David Rodziewicz finished in the top four at the “Energy in Emerging Markets Case Competition,” Nov. 1 at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business as part of the university’s “Energy Week.”

They beat several Ivy League schools to make it to the final round where they competed against Johns Hopkins (first place), Washington University at St. Louis (second place), and Carnegie Mellon (third place).

The goal of the one-day competition is to connect students, academia and industry stakeholders and come up with creative solutions to address real energy challenges affecting the developing world. By encouraging this spirit of innovation, the competition identifies emerging future leaders of the energy industry. The 2016 challenge examined the changes taking place in Cuba’s energy landscape. Teams presented their solutions to a panel of industry leaders and competed for $10,000 in prizes.

Approximately 30 submissions from schools worldwide were received. Of these 30 institutions, 12 were selected for the final round. The Mines MEE students were among an elite group – other schools competing in the finals included Columbia, Duke, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Cornell, UNC Chapel Hill - Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of Maryland, University of Pittsburgh - Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, and Yale.

The students weren't the only ones representing Colorado School of Mines at Duke Energy Week. Mines alum Mauricio Gutierrez, '99 MS Mineral Economics and Chief Executive Officer at NRG in Princeton, NJ was one of the keynote speakers at the Duke University Energy Conference. 

Learn more about the competition and participants by visiting EnergyWeekatDuke.org.

About Mineral and Energy Economics at Mines
Founded in 1969, this world-renowned program in the Division of Economics Business leads to MS and PhD degrees in Mineral and Energy Economics. This program attracts students from all over the world, and Mines MEE alumni are known globally for their career achievements and qualifications. Students gain the skills necessary for understanding the complex interactions of markets and policy that influence the energy, mineral and environmental industries. The program focuses on applied quantitative tools and models that form a foundation for sound business and public policy. Learn more about Mines’ Mineral and Energy Economics MS and PhD programs.

Photo: Mineral and Energy Economics MS students James Crompton, Ashwin Ravichandran, Bansidhar Bandi, David Rodziewicz and Martin Kohn finished in the top four at the “Energy in Emerging Markets Case Competition,” Nov. 1 at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business as part of the university’s “Energy Week.”

CONTACT
Kelly Beard, Communication Specialist, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3452 | kbeard@mines.edu
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences and Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu

 
Over two decades after his show aired on PBS and took the ‘90s by storm, “Bill Nye the Science Guy” is still a hit among science enthusiasts, especially with the millennials who grew up watching him. On Oct. 5, Nye visited the Colorado School of Mines to speak to a sold-out crowd of students, alumni, faculty, and staff in Lockridge Arena. 
Bill Nye speaks to sold out crowd at Mines' 2016 President's Distinguished Lecture.
Bill Nye speaks to sold out crowd at Mines' 2016 President's Distinguished Lecture. Photo Credit: Agata Bogucka
“It was a childhood dream come true,” said sophomore Victoria Martinez-Vivot. Martinez-Vivot got the opportunity to meet Bill Nye prior to the talk, due to her role as MAC Co-Publicity Chair. 
Mines' President Paul Johnson, Bill Nye and Blaster the Burro in their matching bow-ties, all part of the Bill Nye official bow-tie collection.
Mines' President Paul Johnson, Bill Nye and Blaster the Burro in their matching bow-ties, all part of the Bill Nye official bow-tie collection. Photo Credit: Thomas Cooper

Nye’s talk— part of the President’s Distinguished Lecture series and kickoff to the 2016 Homecoming festivities— focused on the biggest problems facing our planet and what society, especially young people, can do to make the world a better place.

His catch phrase for the night was: “I want you guys to — dare I say it — change the world.”

Climate change sparked the conversation, but was only one element of Nye’s advocacy for “renewable and reliable energy for all”. In addition to encouraging the crowd to recognize renewable resources as the future of energy, he also dared Mines students to design the better battery and invent hydro-fusion engines for airplanes.

Fueled by his views on climate and the need to recognize the reality of our rapidly changing planet, Nye challenged the crowd of young engineers to solve the world's top three engineering grand challenges: providing clean water, renewable reliable energy and Internet access for all. He also expressed his support for space exploration.
 
“Space exploration brings out the best in us," said Nye. "There are two questions we all ask: Where did we come from? And are we alone in the universe?” Nye asserted that our desire to explore space illustrates the innate yearning within humankind to understand our origins, despite problems planet Earth may be faced with.
 
After a humorous introduction highlighting his father’s fascination with sundials and Nye’s own “MarsDials”, Nye quipped about how times have changed and reflected on his own scientific youth, including the moment he learned that there are in fact, “100 times more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the Earth.” One of the most memorable moments of the night was Nye’s birthday call to Neil deGrasse Tyson — last year’s Distinguished Lecturer — where he invited the audience to join him in wishing Tyson a “happy orbit around the sun.” The Mines crowd could not have roared any louder.
 
One Mines student gave a heartfelt thank you to Bill Nye during the Q&A at the end of the lecture — “I just want to say that your plate tectonics episode is probably the reason I’m here studying geology right now, so thank you.” 
 
Nye is currently the CEO of The Planetary Society, continuing his legacy of teaching people of all ages the joys and wonders of science. He spent Earth Day 2015 speaking with President Barack Obama about climate change and science education. He also had a short debut on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” but had to drop out after sustaining an injury.
 
 
Contact:
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu
Leah Pinkus, Communications Assistant, Colorado School of Mines 303-273-3088 lpinkus@mines.edu
 
 

Chemical and Biological Engineering Associate Professor Sumit Agarwal has been awarded $615,000 over four years by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to develop a scalable and more cost-effective method of manufacturing ultra-high-efficiency solar cells.

CBE Associate Professor Sumit Agarwal and postdoc Noemi LeickMost silicon-based solar cells in the market today have 16 to 18 percent efficiency, said Agarwal, while the maximum efficiency achieved in the lab is over 25 percent. “Our objective is to make it easier and cheaper to bridge this gap between the lab and industrial-scale devices,” he said.

Agarwal and his team, which includes postdoctoral researcher Noemi Leick and members of Silicon Photovoltaics project group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory led by Paul Stradins, aim to fabricate solar cells with around 23 percent efficiency using their new method. The research will be performed both at Mines and NREL and will take advantage of NREL’s state-of-the-art deposition and new silicon device cleanroom facilities.

Mono-crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar cells provide the most promising pathway to electricity generation at costs that are comparable to conventional energy sources. Solar cells work by absorbing light and releasing separate positive and negative charges to create a current, and using c-Si minimizes the loss of energy from the recombination of these charges.

The efficiency of these cells is further improved by collecting both charges on the back side of the cell, as opposed to the traditional front-grid architecture, where metal contacts cover up some of the cell and prevent some light from being absorbed.
 


Diagram of solar cell with interdigitated back contacts.

Solar cells that use this design, however, only account for a small fraction of solar cells currently being manufactured, as they require the use of interdigitated back contacts, where the contact materials are arranged similarly to interlocked fingers. This requires a complex, repeated process where layers of material are added and sections of it are then removed.

Agarwal proposes to bypass these steps, using light and chemical vapor deposition to put down the material for the back contacts in the desired pattern. “Only the lit areas will get material growth,” Agarwal said. He believes this is a technique that can be translated into large-scale manufacturing.

In addition to the SunShot Initiative funding, the project will also receive a 10 percent match from Mines.

 

The grant is part of $107 million in new projects and planned funding announced by the Energy Department Sept. 14 to support clean energy innovation through solar technology. Under the SunShot Initiative, the department will fund 40 projects with a total of $42 million to improve PV performance, reliability, and manufacturability, and to enable greater market penetration for solar technologies.

In addition to the new projects, the department intends to make up to $65 million, subject to appropriation, in additional funding available for upcoming solar research and development projects to continue driving down the cost of solar energy and accelerating widespread national deployment. One of SunShot's goals is to drive down the levelized cost of utility-scale solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour without incentives by 2020.

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 | ramirez@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

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