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New Research Center to Make High-efficiency Solar Energy Technologies Sustainable, Ubiquitous, and Cost-effective

Image of photovoltaic technology produced at Arizona State University.

The new ERC aims to create technologies and manufacturing methods to increase solar energy use.
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August 17, 2011

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced an award to Arizona State University and its partners to establish a new Engineering Research Center (ERC) jointly funded by NSF and the Department of Energy (DOE):  the NSF­-DOE ERC for Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST).  QESST will develop interdisciplinary research and education programs to address a stubborn energy challenge -- how to realize a large-scale, sustainable, domestic energy source -- by developing advanced solar photovoltaic technologies and by providing the foundation for new industries through innovation.  Over the next five years, the NSF ERC program and the DOE Solar Energy Technologies program together will invest $18.5 million in the Center.

Over recent decades, engineers and scientists have investigated a number of approaches to harness the nearly boundless energy of the sun.  They have pursued photovoltaic arrays that are energy-efficient, easy to manufacture, and environmentally friendly.  Technological advances have allowed photovoltaic applications to expand, but thus far they have enabled solar energy only to supply less than one percent of the electrical energy needs of the United States.  QESST proposes to develop the technologies and manufacturing processes to dramatically increase the amount of solar photovoltaic energy supplying the nation's homes and businesses.

In pursuit of cost-competitive photovoltaics with sustained market growth, QESST will combine fundamental materials research in silicon, thin film, and tandem solar cells with systems-level issues of manufacturability and integration.  QESST researchers will consider sustainability and resource constraints to inform material and technological choices.  In addition, the Center will educate a new generation of engineers in solar energy technologies and manufacturing techniques and equip them to be renewable energy innovators.

The NSF-DOE QESST ERC will be based at Arizona State University, in partnership with the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Delaware, and the University of New Mexico.  Researchers at the Imperial College, London, the University of New South Wales in Australia, and the University of Tokyo will contribute additional expertise and international perspectives. 

The involvement of nearly 40 industry partners -- including multinational corporations, manufacturers, and start-up firms -- will spur innovation and provide university students with first-hand experience in entrepreneurship.  The QESST ERC will also collaborate with complementary research centers and organizations specializing in technology transfer to stimulate innovation based on its research.

The QESST ERC award marks the first time that the NSF investment in an ERC will be matched by another federal agency, DOE.  "Through this partnership, as with partnerships between NSF and industry, we bring together complementary strategic objectives," said Thomas Peterson, the NSF Assistant Director for Engineering.  "Jointly-funded ERCs will have unique opportunities to advance basic and translational research and to shape the energy workforce -- all of which will be essential for energy innovation."

Since 1985 the NSF ERC program has fostered broad-based research and education collaborations to focus on creating technological breakthroughs for new products and services and on preparing U.S. engineering graduates to successfully participate in the global economy.  The four centers launched this June, as part of the third generation of NSF ERCs, place increased emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, partnerships with small research firms, and international collaboration and cultural exchange.

"The Gen-3 ERCs are designed to speed the process of transitioning knowledge into innovation and to provide young engineers with experience in research and entrepreneurship to strengthen their role as innovation leaders in the global economy," said Lynn Preston, the leader of the ERC Program.  "Building on the rich understanding we gained from two previous generations of ERCs, we expect these new centers to make even more significant impacts on the competitiveness of U.S. industry."

-Cecile J. Gonzalez, NSF, cjgonzalez@nsf.gov-


Media Contacts
Joshua A. Chamot, NSF, (703) 292-7730, jchamot@nsf.gov
DOE Public Affairs, (202) 586-4940
Joe Kullman, Arizona State University, (480) 965-8122, joe.kullman@asu.edu

Program Contacts
Lynn Preston, NSF, (703) 292-5358, lpreston@nsf.gov
Barbara Kenny, NSF, (703) 292-4667, bkenny@nsf.gov
Minh Le, DOE, (202) 287-1372, Minh.Le@ee.doe.gov

Principal Investigator
Christiana Honsberg, Arizona State University, (480) 965-2831, honsberg@asu.edu

Related Websites
NSF ERC for Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST):  http://qesst.org
NSF ERC Program:   http://www.erc-assoc.org
DOE SunShot Initiative:  http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/sunshot/

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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Image of photovoltaic researchers Christiana Honsberg and Stuart Bowden of Arizona State University.
Christiana Honsberg and Stuart Bowden aim to develop efficient photovoltaics for widespread use.
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