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New DOE Grant Supports Marsillac's Energy Research on Solar Cells

Sylvain Marsillac, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Old Dominion University and an expert in photovoltaic (PV) energy cells, recently received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This grant builds on his funded work from last year, when Marsillac brought more than $1 million in awards to ODU for research on PV.

The new grant, awarded through the DOE's Foundational Program to Advance Cell Efficiency (F-PACE), involves research being done into improving the efficiency of solar cells. The cells are made from cadmium telluride, a polycrystalline compound formed from cadmium and tellurium, mostly used in infrared detectors and solar cells.

The material is deposited in a thin film form using high vacuum deposition systems, and the process creates a semiconductor layer designed to absorb and convert sunlight into electricity. Marsillac said this latest DOE-funded research will develop ways to enhance the cadmium telluride back contacts by specifically looking at new materials based on chalcopyrite and delafossite structures.

"Better connection means better voltage, which means better efficiency for the PV cells," he said.

Marsillac is partnering on the grant with two longtime alternative energy colleagues. One colleague is at the University of Illinois, the lead institution on the grant. The other colleague is at the University of Toledo. At Toledo, his previous institution, Marsillac and his colleagues attracted more than $20 million in funding for PV energy research.

Marsillac said each of the three researchers involved in this grant has a different sub-specialty in the field of photovoltaic energy research. Marsillac's specialty involves the fabrication of the solar cells themselves, something that he will be able to do more effectively at ODU in the soon-to-be-completed PV clean room that is being rebuilt in Kaufman Hall, home of the Batten College of Engineering and Technology.