SETO FY2019 – Photovoltaics

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The Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2019 (SETO FY2019) funding program supports projects that will improve the affordability, reliability, and performance of solar technologies on the national grid. This program funds projects that advance early-stage photovoltaic (PV), concentrating solar-thermal power, and systems integration technologies, and reduce the non-hardware costs associated with installing solar energy systems.

On November 6, 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would provide $128 million in funding for 75 projects in this program. Twenty-one of these projects will focus on PV research and development.

Approach

PV research and development projects will work toward achieving a 50% cost reduction by 2030 and focus on increasing performance, reducing material and manufacturing costs, and improving the reliability of PV cells, modules, and systems. Some are large research projects that bring multiple institutions together to work toward a specific goal; others are smaller, one-year projects intended to provide a foothold for new technologies or areas of study.

Objectives

Projects in this funding program will bolster innovation across the U.S and work toward the SETO 2030 cost targets. Technical projects will result in new technologies and solutions that can lower solar PV electricity costs.

Selectees

-- Award and cost share amounts are subject to change pending negotiations --

Photovoltaics Research Collaborations

ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY (1)

Project Name: SonicWafering™ of III-V Substrates for High-Efficiency Cells: A Path to <$0.50/W
Location: Tempe, AZ
DOE Award Amount: $2.5 million
Cost Share: $600,000
Project Summary: Creating the base, or substrate, of a solar cell typically requires sawing silicon blocks, but using sound waves instead of a metal saw results in less material waste and improves the lifetime of the substrate. This team will prove the viability of a sonic wafering process that uses low temperatures and intense sound waves to carefully and accurately remove completed gallium arsenide solar cells from the top surface of a thick wafer to reuse III-V substrates, so named for the semiconductor materials in groups III and V of the periodic table. This work would significantly reduce the cost of producing high-quality III-V substrates, which is one of the costliest components of this type of solar cell.

ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY (2)

Project Name: PV Foundry: Increasing Manufacturing Capabilities in the U.S. by Developing Passivated Contact PV Technology
Location: Tempe, AZ
DOE Award Amount: $1.8 million
Cost Share: $400,000
Project Summary: This project will leverage the advanced cell and module prototyping facilities at Arizona State University to support U.S. companies that want to prove the viability of new photovoltaic (PV) technologies but don’t have equipment that can fabricate them. The foundry will focus on post–passivated emitter rear contact silicon solar cell and module technologies, which are built to capture more light on the back surface of the cell and are expected to grow to dominate the manufacturing landscape. It will allow users to improve process steps and designs and work to reduce production costs.

COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY

Project Name: Back-Contact Interface Engineering for Higher Efficiency CdTe PV
Location: Fort Collins, CO
DOE Award Amount: $3.5 million
Cost Share: $1 million
Project Summary: The rear contact is one of the performance-limiting components of cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cells, and it will likely need to be dramatically improved for CdTe is to reach monocrystalline silicon cell efficiencies. This project team will identify the best materials to use to make high-quality passivated rear contacts for thin-film CdTe solar cells, and possibly bifacial modules, pushing CdTe technology closer to 25% efficiency while preventing power loss.

ELECTRIC POWER RESEARCH INSTITUTE (1)

Project Name: Automating Detection and Diagnosis of Faults, Failures, and Underperformance in PV Plants
Location: Palo Alto, CA
DOE Award Amount: $2 million
Cost Share: $500,000
Project Summary: Using machine learning and developing algorithms, this project team will identify reasons for unplanned maintenance events at utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) plants and differentiate them from power fluctuations due to causes that do not require on-site maintenance, like weather or module degradation. By analyzing the continuous energy-production data stream coming from utility-scale PV arrays, this technology can eliminate false alarms that are sent to PV system owners and operations and maintenance firms. This would decrease the labor required to review underperformance, lower the levelized cost of PV electricity, and increase energy output.

ENERGY MATERIALS CORPORATION

Project Name: High-Speed, Roll-to-Roll Production of Durable, Low-Cost, Bifacial Perovskite Photovoltaic Modules
Location: Rochester, NY
DOE Award Amount: $4 million
Cost Share: $1 million
Project Summary: Energy Materials Corporation (EMC) is developing low-cost, high-efficiency, high-stability, bifacial, thin-film solar modules using roll-to-roll printers at the former Kodak manufacturing facility. EMC and partners will create new methods to deposit layers of material to make the cell, develop a high-speed process using intense pulsed light to fuse the layers, resolve causes of degradation, and produce prototypes. The high-speed manufacturing process could eventually result in gigawatt-scale production.

LEADING EDGE CRYSTAL TECHNOLOGIES

Project Name: Development of a Low-Cost Single Crystal Silicon Substrate Process for >23% Solar Cells
Location: Gloucester, MA
DOE Award Amount: $2.5 million
Cost Share: $1.2 million
Project Summary: This project will improve Leading Edge’s floating-silicon method for producing high-quality single crystalline wafers, as opposed to the conventional process of using wire saws to slice the wafers off a block of silicon called an ingot. Sawing creates silicon shavings that wastes material, whereas this technology produces continuous thin silicon ribbons in a solution. The goal of this work is to remove any contaminating oxygen impurities in the silicon while it changes from liquid to solid, through increased understanding and better-engineered floating silicon furnaces.

UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO

Project Name: Toward Low-Cost, Efficient and Stable Perovskite Thin-Film Modules
Location: Toledo, OH
DOE Award Amount: $4.5 million
Cost Share: $1.1 million
Project Summary: This project will develop high-efficiency perovskite mini modules and investigate deposition techniques that can be scaled up for high-speed manufacturing. The team will work with First Solar, which has world-leading expertise in industrial thin-film photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing, degradation testing, and predictive lifetime modeling. To test reliability, the team will develop accelerated stress-testing methods that can detect what degrades perovskite modules outdoors.

Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS)

ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY (3)

Project Name: Ultrasonic Characterization of EVA Crosslinking for Quality Assurance and Lamination Process Control
Location: Tempe, AZ
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: Solar modules that are not properly laminated can produce less power over time because of cell breakage, corrosion, and other issues that may occur. This project will develop an method using very high-frequency sound waves to characterize the module lamination process, paying particular attention to specific bonding structures in the ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) encapsulation layer, and quantify the achievable resolution and measurement uncertainties. This work will deliver new insights into how defects and lamination are related and how to optimize the lamination process, ultimately at the industrial scale.

COLORADO SCHOOL OF MINES (1)

Project Name: Perovskite Solar Cells: Addressing Low Cost, High Efficiency, and Reliability through Novel Polymeric Hole Transport Materials
Location: Golden, CO
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: This project will develop hole transport materials—layers in a solar cell that collect current—using organic materials called polymers that will give thin-film perovskite solar cells, including tandem cells, efficiencies greater than 30% and lifetimes of more than 25 years. Polymers cost less than materials currently used for this purpose, and they will allow the team to manipulate their material properties to achieve greater compatibility with other layers of the device.

COLORADO SCHOOL OF MINES (2)

Project Name: Understanding the Mechanism of Light- and Elevated–Temperature Induced Degradation of p-type Silicon Solar Cells 
Location: Golden, CO
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: The Colorado School of Mines and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will develop strategies to mitigate degradation in p-type passivated emitter rear contact (PERC) silicon solar cells, which are built to capture more light on the back surface of the cell, resulting from the interaction of hydrogen with light and high temperatures. This project will improve the long-term reliability of PERCs.

DREXEL UNIVERSITY

Project Name: Cross-Cutting Metrology Tools for In Operando Characterization of Carrier Dynamics in Photovoltaic Devices
Location: Philadelphia, PA
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: This project team will develop cross-cutting measurement tools after exposing copper indium gallium selenide thin-film solar cells to infrared light with tremendously high terahertz frequencies. These methods will enable the observation of how charge carriers move and recombine in the various photovoltaic device layers while the cell is operating. The team will obtain key parameters using noncontact probes and modeling in experiments.

ELECTRIC POWER RESEARCH INSTITUTE (2)

Project Name: Techno-economic Analysis of Novel PV Plant Designs for Extreme Cost Reductions
Location: Charlotte, NC
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: This project team will perform a techno-economic evaluation of photovoltaic (PV) plant design innovations to reduce costs and enable more dispatchable solar energy. Using machine-learning techniques, they will gather data about both the plant components and the plants to optimize performance and significantly lower the levelized cost of energy. This will provide the PV community with a new opportunity to focus resources on technologies and designs that will have the greatest impact on cost reduction.

MICHIGAN TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY

Project Name: The Energizer Bunny: Dual-Use Photovoltaic and Pasture-Raised Rabbit Farms
Location: Houghton, MI
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: This project will evaluate the technical, economic, environmental, and social feasibility of raising rabbits on land with a photovoltaic solar energy system. Solar installations provide shade and protection from aerial predators, which may lead to increased reproduction and higher profits. The team will produce a free, publicly accessible comprehensive manual that includes data about solar with rabbit farms and their effects on economics, market size, and operations.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY

Project Name: On-Device Lead Detention for Perovskite Solar Cells
Location: DeKalb, IL
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: This project team will develop sealants that reduce lead leakage from broken perovskite solar modules. The sealants will contain lead-absorbing resin to capture 99.9% of lead that could leak upon destruction of the module.

SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY

Project Name: Use of Advanced AI & Machine Learning to Achieve Enhanced Headroom for PV
Location: Santa Clara, CA
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: This project will implement an artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning engine to drive photovoltaic (PV) system inverters and enable systems to provide dispatchable power and grid support by leaving a buffer of extra power in the plant. The engine would be “trained” on data from a microgrid to respond and adjust inverter settings in accordance with forecasted conditions. The goal is to automate the process and make it transferrable to any PV installation.

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DAVIS

Project Name: Exploring Si Heterojunction Solar Cell Degradation: Bulk and Interface Processes Analyzed by Simulations and Experiments in Order to Develop Mitigation Strategies
Location: Davis, CA
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: This project will determine whether hydrogen degrades two types of solar cells: heterojunction (HJ) silicon cells, which consist of thin silicon layers on crystalline silicon (Si) wafers, and advanced passivated emitter rear contact (PERC) cells, which are built to capture more light on the back surface of the cell. The team will identify what causes defects in HJ cells and at PERC interfaces, to develop mitigation strategies and improve stability.

UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA

Project Name: Microdroplet Electrospray Localized Laser Printing and Sintering of Nanoparticles for Passivated, Carrier-Selective Contacts
Location: Orlando, FL
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: This project will enable the printing of silver contacts on silicon solar cells with very little thermal energy use, through a scalable technology called a nanoparticle electrospray laser deposition (NELD). NELD will deposit silver microdroplets on the base of a silicon solar cell, then fuse the nanoparticles together with a laser, a process known as sintering. This project will lower costs and improve cell performance.

UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON

Project Name: III-V Solar Cells with Novel Epitaxial Lift-off Architectures for Extended Substrate Reuse for Low-Cost Manufacturing
Location: Houston, TX
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: The highest solar cell efficiencies have been achieved with costly III-V photovoltaics— so named for the semiconductor materials in groups III and V of the periodic table—but reusing the base of the solar cell, called the substrate, can lower costs. The team is developing an architecture based on novel layers so that polishing the substrate after old layers of material are removed won’t be required for reuse.

UNIVERSITY OF UTAH (1)

Project Name: Investigating Local Carrier Dynamics in PERC Patterned CdTe Solar Cells
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: This project will develop a cadmium telluride (CdTe) passivated emitter rear contact (PERC) solar cell that comprises a patterned aluminum oxide layer and small metal contacts defined on individual grains for greater cell efficiency and power output. PERC cells are designed to capture more light on the back surface of the cell. The team will use current generated by a concentrated stream of electrons to detect any defects in the PERC design and quantify changes in physical parameters, such as the components’ efficiency, using 2- and 3-D numerical models.

UNIVERSITY OF UTAH (2)

Project Name: In-situ Characterizations of Microstructural Degradation of Perovskite Solar Cells
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: To understand how perovskite solar cells degrade, this project team will develop ways to measure the electronic properties of features in perovskite absorbers while the device is exposed to high temperature, bright light, and other potential causes of damage. These features include the surface of the solar cell; the bulk of the grains, or tiny perovskite crystals, in the solar cell; and the grain boundaries, or the spaces between the grains in the cell.

WORCESTER POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE

Project Name: Environmentally Sound One-Step Low-Cost Solar Silicon from Natural Quartzite
Location: Worcester, MA
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: This project will aim to produce pure silicon by developing a system that will electrochemically reduce natural quartzite to high-purity silicon in a molten salt bath. This process will safely and significantly lower the cost of silicon.

Learn more about the SETO FY2019 funding program and the projects selected for the concentrating solar-thermal power, systems integration, innovations in manufacturing: hardware incubator, and balance of systems soft cost reduction topics.

Learn more about the solar office’s other photovoltaics awards.