The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS) 2022 Funding Program funds innovative research and development seedling projects in photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technologies to accelerate the large-scale development and deployment of solar technology.

On February 9, 2022, DOE announced $5 million in funding for 15 to 23 awards. SETO selected 19 projects, which were announced June 10, 2022. SIPS is an ongoing SETO program that has funded more than 100 projects since it began in 2015.  

Approach

The SIPS program focuses on innovative, targeted, early-stage ideas in solar energy research that can produce significant results within the first year of performance, laying the foundation for continued research and quickly validating novel concepts.

Projects in the CSP topic area will pursue innovations across all aspects of CSP plants, including thermal energy storage, solar-thermal fuel systems, and solar-thermal process heat for industrial decarbonization. Projects in the PV topic area aim to improve power conversion efficiency, energy output, reuse and recycling processes, service lifetime, and manufacturability of PV technologies.

SIPS featured a streamlined application process to encourage applications from a diverse pool of researchers who have never applied or been selected for a SETO award. Applicants also submitted plans to broaden the participation of team members from groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering and science.

Objectives

SIPS projects will support the government-wide approach to addressing the climate crisis by driving innovation, increasing the diversity of those working in applied energy research, and speeding CSP and PV deployment to achieve a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions energy sector by 2050.

Selectees

Topic Area 1: Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power

ADVANCED MATERIALS SCIENTIA LLC

Project Name: Recyclable Design Retaining High Solar Absorptivity of the Media in CSP
Principal Investigator: Kyu Bum Han
Location: Bothell, WA
DOE Award Amount: $275,000
Project Summary: Low-cost solid particles are being explored for next generation high-efficiency CSP systems. These particles are black, and therefore highly optically absorptive to concentrated sunlight. However, after significant time at high temperatures, the particles’ color will fade and can become less efficient at absorbing sunlight. This project team is developing a process to recharge the high absorptivity of the original particles to ensure high efficiency over long periods of exposure to air and high temperatures.

ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY

Project Name: Low-Cost Thermo-Electrochemical Hydrogen
Principal Investigator: Ivan Ermanoski
Location: Tempe, AZ
DOE Award Amount: $400,000
Project Summary: This project will develop a novel hydrogen production process driven both by high-temperature heat and electricity. The method relies on an applying an electrical bias to metal-oxide materials that are capable of splitting water to produce hydrogen and oxygen. If successful, the concept would significantly reduce the production temperature of hydrogen compared to similar processes
enabling less expensive chemical reactors, while requiring much less electricity than conventional electrolysis processes for splitting water.

FLOWSERVE

Project Name: Particle CSP Erosion Resistant Materials Evaluation for Use in System Control Elements
Principal Investigator: Jeff Parish
Location: Irving, TX
DOE Award Amount: $400,000
Project Summary: The project will develop innovative manufacturing processes for grading selected high temperature alloys with erosion resistant materials. These processes will be applied to key components for controlling the flow and transport of particles for CSP systems. The materials will be tested for resistance to high fluctuations in temperature, oxidation, and erosion resistance with the goal of increasing the life expectancy of high temperature components.

HELIOGEN

Project Name: Development & Testing of a Low-Cost Heliostat Using Metalized Film Reflectors
Principal Investigator: Andreas Pfahl
Location: Pasadena, CA
DOE Award Amount: $275,000
Project Summary: This team will develop a low-cost heliostat design using reflectors based on polymer film coated with a thin layer of metal, instead of conventional mirror designs based on glass. If successful, these lightweight reflectors will enable heliostat designers to reduce costs associated with the heliostat structure, manufacturing, and operation, as well as diversify the available supply chain for heliostat reflectors.  

SANDIA NATIONAL LABORATORIES

Project Name: Solar Heating of an Endothermic Ethylene Reactor (SHEER)
Principal Investigator: Erik Spoerke
Location: Albuquerque, NM
DOE Award Amount:  $350,000
Project Summary: SNL will develop a new solar-heated thermochemical reactor concept for utilizing concentrated solar-thermal power to produce chemical products with a significantly lower carbon footprint than conventional processes that involve fossil fuel combustion. Specifically, the team will explore the integration of a solar-heated storage medium and working fluid with an innovative reactor capable of efficiently removing hydrogen from ethane to form ethylene.

SANDIA NATIONAL LABORATORIES

Project Name: Validating Dense Discrete Phase Flow Models for Obstructed Flow and Multistage Particle Receivers
Principal Investigator: Brantley Mills
Location: Albuquerque, NM
DOE Award Amount:  $300,000
This project will develop and validate new modeling tools to analyze particle flow properties for predicting the performance of next-generation particle receivers, including the planned concentrating solar-thermal power pilot systems that are being constructed as part of the Generation 3 (Gen3) CSP funding program. The project will seek to deliver modeling capabilities for a wide variety of systems, including current prototype particle receivers, future commercial systems, as well as disseminating strategies to the broader community.

UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

Project Name: Heliostats with Adjustable Shape for High Concentration Throughout the Day
Principal Investigator: James Roger Angel
Location: Tucson, AZ
DOE Award Amount: $400,000
Project Summary: This project will develop a novel heliostat design that can change the curvature of the mirror as the sun changes its position in the sky. If successful, this design concept has the potential to significantly improve the efficiency of each individual heliostat. This could potentially reduce the number of heliostats needed for a given thermal power, lowering CSP capital costs. The team will perform a detailed evaluation of the resulting improvement on heliostat field performance and solar receiver efficiency.

UNIVERSITY OF MAINE

Project Name: Solar Decarbonization of Paraffin Dehydrogenation Through Particle Heat Carriers
Principal Investigator: Justin Lapp
Location: Orono, ME
DOE Award Amount: $400,000
Project Summary: This project will develop a novel thermochemical reactor that uses solid catalyst particles, heated by solar particle receivers, in a continuous moving bed reactor operating from 600º-900ºC. The team will characterize the reaction kinetics and solar absorption of the particles, demonstrate their operation in a lab-scale moving bed reactor, and produce a design for on-sun prototype testing. If successful, the research will help advance novel systems for decarbonizing the chemicals industry.

UNIVERSITY OF TULSA

Project Name: Particle Flow Control in CSP Systems
Principal Investigator: Soroor Karimi
Location: Tulsa, OK
DOE Award Amount: $375,000
Project Summary: This project will develop an improved particle flow control system for Gen3 CSP systems that can help improve system-level performance by accommodating off-design operating conditions and optimizing heat transfer rates. The team will build and test a prototype, based on design principles developed by the drilling industry, for verification of performance under high temperature conditions.

Topic Area 2: Photovoltaics

ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY

Project Name: Planar Transformer Systems for Modular Power Electronics in Long-haul, Low-cost PV Systems
Principal Investigator: Mike Ranjram
Location: Tempe, AZ
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project Summary: This project team will design new power electronic converters for connecting solar PV systems to the grid that are modular and redundant. The new converters will be smaller than current devices, easily repaired and upgraded, and made using methods and materials that are less sensitive to supply chain changes. This will support longer operational lifetimes while maintaining high performance in PV systems.

ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY

Project Name: Solar-Leap: A Democratized Tool to Manage Long-Term Impact of Environmental and Operational Conditions on Asset Performance Degradation
Principal Investigator: Hyekyung (Clarisse) Kim
Location: Lemont, IL
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project Summary: This project will develop tools to accurately analyze and predict the long-term reliability of PV modules in different extreme climates and related stress conditions. Current tools only use small data sets or laboratory-based experiments, which can be less accurate in predicting real-world, long-term PV module performance. The new tools developed by the project team will use sensor data and maintenance records from an extensive fleet of PV modules to more accurately determine the effects of field conditions and develop strategies to mitigate these negative effects. The team will work closely with PV industry members–with a specific focus on minority-owned businesses and companies in under-resourced communities–to gather feedback and demonstrate the impact of the tool on the operations and maintenance of their PV assets.

CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY

Project Name: Accelerating Cycles of Learning of Advanced Silicon Architectures: Cell Processing Approaches and their Effect on Degradation Mechanisms
Principal Investigator: Laura Bruckman
Location: Cleveland, OH
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project Summary: This project will develop a process that can rapidly predict the performance and durability of new materials for silicon P) cells without having to fully optimize the new device first. This will save research time and effort by identifying which new silicon PV cell designs have the best potential to achieve both high efficiency and long operational lifetimes. The process will examine a wide spectrum of factors that could affect the device performance–from stability of the silicon material itself to accelerated aging tests of the module components in different climates–to develop these predictions.

UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA

Project Name: Precursor Engineering of All-Inorganic Perovskite Absorber and Rapid Photonic Annealing for Large-Area Highly Stable Perovskite Solar Modules
Principal Investigator: Dawen Li
Location: Tuscaloosa, AL
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project Summary: This project will enable high-speed printing of perovskite solar cells using a newly modified perovskite material and innovative processing techniques. This method will help overcome current barriers to perovskite cell manufacturing, such as instability and long processing times. The team will use a perovskite material where the organic molecules are replaced with inorganic elements to increase its stability, and pair this with outer layers made of metal oxide materials to provide physical protection and improve transfer of electricity out of the module. These will then be used to make modules from a liquid solution through a process called slot-die coating, which can be scaled up for use in a high-speed manufacturing line. The team will aim to make mini-modules with power conversion efficiencies above 20%. This combination of new materials and techniques have the potential to provide low-cost, stable perovskite photovoltaic modules.

UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

Project Name: Advanced Perovskite Solar Cell Development and Stability Using In-Line Electrochemical Methodologies
Principal Investigator: Erin Ratcliff
Location: Tucson, AZ
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project Summary: This project will develop an instrument to test for defects or degradation in perovskite photovoltaic cells that can be integrated into a high-throughput manufacturing line. This will provide a low-cost, highly scalable method to understand the impact of different materials and manufacturing methods on the stability of perovskite PV cells and enable expanded perovskite PV manufacturing.

UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT

Project Name: Performance Assessment of PV Panels Using Impedance Spectroscopy
Principal Investigator: Sung Yeul Park
Location: Storrs, CT
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project Summary: This project will develop a tool that can analyze PV modules while in operation. The tool will measure how the power output and lifetime of the PV modules is affected by different intensities of light, materials-level characteristics like defects, impurities, and mechanical properties, and module-level characteristics like electrical connectors.

UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE

Project Name: In-situ Hydrogen Microstructural Characterization of Silicon Heterojunction Passivation: Addressing Open Circuit Voltage Degradation and Mitigation Pathways
Principal Investigator: Ujjwal Das
Location: Newark, DE
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project Summary: This project will develop a method to measure microstructural changes in the silicon layer of PV modules under accelerated heat and light stress tests, which are designed to predict the operational lifetime of the modules. The project team will focus on a particular type of silicon PV cells that have thin layers of silicon with hydrogen added in to change the electrical properties. These layers boost PV cell efficiency, but may decrease the material’s stability. This new method will measure how the hydrogen reacts to the accelerated lifetime tests and use this information to develop mitigation strategies and enable 30–50-year operational lifetimes for silicon heterojunction PV cells.

UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII AT MANOA

Project Name: Monolithic Encapsulation of Perovskite Solar Cells with Transparent Conductive Composites for Long-Term Stability
Principal Investigator: Nicolas Gaillard
Location: Honolulu, HI
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project Summary: This project team will investigate a new sealant material to use as a protective outer layer on perovskite PV cells. Most sealants used today must be applied at high temperatures, which can break down the perovskite material. This new material could be applied at room temperature. The new material could also replace glass in cells where the glass is used as a protective layer, decreasing the cost of these modules.

UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

Project Name: High Efficiency Recycled Silicon Solar Cells
Principal Investigator: Mool Gupta
Location: Charlottesville, VA
DOE Award Amount: $250,000
Project Summary: This project will investigate new cost-effective and environmentally friendly methods for recycling silver metal used in silicon PV modules. The silver used for electrical contacts in silicon solar cells is one of the most expensive components, and is currently recovered from old or broken silicon solar cells using nitric acid–a technique that can be environmentally harmful and inefficient. This project will use a new method called laser ablation to remove silicon from PV modules by converting them into small particles. Laser ablation is a low environmental impact process that provides higher yield of recycled silver, and the silver particles recovered during the process can be directly used in manufacturing new silicon modules.

URIEL SOLAR

Project Name: Investigations of Single-Crystal Cadmium Telluride on Silicon to Enable Future PV Devices
Principal Investigator: Peter Dingus
Location: Westlake Village, CA
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project Summary: This project will develop methods to add high-quality layers of cadmium telluride on top of silicon in PV cells. These layers have the potential for significantly higher power conversion efficiency compared to the silicon-only or cadmium telluride-only PV cells, but adding this layer can be challenging. This team will analyze and optimize methods for adding the cadmium telluride layer to maximize stability, efficiency, and ease of fabrication.