Solar energy

In a state with an energy economy as purple as its politics, it can be hard to decide where to stand.

The Payne Institute for Earth Resources at Colorado School of Mines has teamed up with Inside Energy to host Spark! Unpacking the Politics of Energy in Colorado at 5 p.m. on Sept. 8 in the Ben H. Parker Student Center (1200 16th Street, Golden), Ballrooms A and B.

Join the Payne Institute and Inside Energy to explore everything Colorado’s energy portfolio stands to lose, gain or change in the 2016 election. Journalists from Inside Energy will press a panel of experts on critical energy issues to help the public make their own decisions in November.

The panel includes Ian Lange, PhD, Mineral and Energy Economics Program Director, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines; Tracee Bentley, Executive Director, Colorado Petroleum Council; Meghan Nutting, Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs, Sunnova; and Lee Boughey, Senior Manager, Communications and Public Affairs, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

“This panel covers the full spectrum of the Colorado energy landscape,” says Dr. Lange. “I’m excited to hear the views of my fellow panelists and share my thoughts on how Colorado could be impacted by the policies on the ballot this fall.”

Come enjoy drinks, heavy hors d'oeuvres, energy trivia, networking, and a multimedia presentation at this signature event. RSVP online by Aug. 31 or visit for more information.

About the Payne Institute at Colorado School of Mines
The mission of the Payne Institute for Earth Resources at Colorado School of Mines is to inform and shape sound public policy related to earth resources, energy and the environment. Its goal is to educate current and future leaders on the market, policy and technological challenges presented by energy, environmental and resource management issues, and provide a forum for national and global policy debate. For more information, visit

About Inside Energy
Inside Energy is a collaborative journalism initiative among public media with roots in Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota. It is funded by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Its mission, in collaboration with its partner stations, is to create a more informed public on energy issues. Inside Energy seeks to make energy issues a household topic and to inspire community conversations on the topic of energy. Learn more at

Kelly Beard, Communication Specialist, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3452 |
Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |

Two solar panels have been installed at the Geology Museum, providing power to the Critical Materials Institute exhibit inside and proving the importance of the materials that the exhibit highlights.

“The solar panels demonstrate how critical materials such as telluride are important to new advanced energy technologies," said Cynthia Howell, research faculty and energy education specialist for CMI and the Colorado Energy Research Institute.

The setup passed its official state inspection on Friday, July 29, and now powers a video demonstrating the importance of certain mined elements, as well as a phosphor viewing box.

The idea for the critical materials exhibit arose about a year and a half ago in discussions between Howell and museum Director Bruce Geller. Mandi Hutchinson, then a master's student in geology and now research faculty, led the assembly of the exhibit, which opened in February 2015 with the solar panels still waiting in the wings.

Troy Wanek, a solar energy expert and a member of the energy technology faculty at Red Rocks Community College, was recruited to install the panels. He also provided a behind-the-scenes presentation alongside fellow RRCC faculty member Tim Kjensrud, turning the project into an educational partnership.

Capital Planning and Construction and Facilities Management inspected the solar panel installation on July 22.

The Critical Materials Institute at Mines is a Department of Energy Research Innovation Hub. Its focus is developing technologies that assure the supply of materials critical to advanced energy technologies such as solar cells and wind turbines. Rare-earth elements have essential roles in high-efficiency motors and advanced lighting, but such metals and alloys are not manufactured in the United States, making innovations in the supply chain vital.

Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-383-2622 |
Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |

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.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3541 /

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

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.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

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.”



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

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.


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