Mines News

Release Date Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dept. of Energy Award to Fund Nanoengineered Solar Cells

Phil Ahrenkiel, Ph.D., of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Nanoscience and Nanoengineering Program, is seated at the transmission electron microscope that will be used for high-resolution nanocharacterization of solar-cell materials. The instrument will enable analysis of the structures and properties of semiconductor thin films formed using aluminum layers and substrates.

RAPID CITY, S.D. (July 28, 2016) – Phil Ahrenkiel, Ph.D., of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Nanoscience and Nanoengineering Program, has been awarded $179,000 through the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to research next-generation solar cells.

Ahrenkiel, associate professor, will develop a novel approach to using earth-abundant and widely available metal aluminum to improve commercializable photovoltaic (PV) solar cells for low-cost renewable energy.

This research could lead to an expanded industrial presence in the United States for production of next-generation III-V solar cells, which use emerging nanoengineering approaches to enhance efficiencies and reduce manufacturing costs.

Current solar-cell technology can reach very high efficiencies by using many stacked, interconnected solar cells made with expensive semiconductor substrate material.

The ultimate goal of Ahrenkiel’s project is to boost the efficiency of single solar cells with optimal properties for converting sunlight into electricity, while lowering costs by depositing thin layers of cells on inexpensive aluminum substrates.

If the research is successful, it will lead to the fabrication of solar cells on thin, flexible, and lightweight aluminum ribbons or sheets, which could be transferred to glass and integrated with residential or commercial buildings. This technology would be adaptable to a roll-to-roll semiconductor deposition process for mass production of inexpensive solar cells.

“Research like this can reduce the capital cost of solar energy – one of the barriers to wider use,” said Heather Wilson, president of South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

The research will be performed using existing device-processing, electron-microscopy, and optoelectronic-characterization capabilities available at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, which is partnering with Rochester Institute of Technology and Lakewood Semiconductors on this project.

The SunShot Initiative works with academia, national laboratories, industry, and government agencies to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour or $1 per watt (not including incentives) by the end of the decade. The office’s photovoltaics research and development work aims to lower manufacturing costs, increase efficiency and performance, and improve reliability of PV technologies.  


About SD Mines  

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,654 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of 15:1. The SD School of Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $61,300. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat

Contact: Fran LeFort, (605) 939-4239, Fran.LeFort@sdsmt.edu