The Catholic University of America

July 10, 2009

Government of India Teams With CUA to Develop Nanotech Solar Cells

The government of India and the government of its state of West Bengal have asked for and are receiving The Catholic University of America's help in setting up a large University of Calcutta research laboratory to develop next-generation solar cells created with the aid of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology involves creation of micro-miniature devices by manipulating atoms and molecules.

The project is being directed by Associate Professor of Physics Biprodas Dutta, who is a senior scientist at Catholic University's Vitreous State Laboratory (VSL) and is also co-director of CUA's Nanotechnology Center.

According to the memorandum of understanding signed in June by both Catholic University and a scientific agency of the West Bengal government, scientists from India will participate in nanotechnology research at CUA under the guidance of Dutta for the next five years, receiving training and helping CUA advance its own solar cell development. The West Bengal government will pay all the wages and expenses of its scientists working at and for Catholic University. When CUA scientists, in turn, occasionally visit India to help set up and guide the University of Calcutta research center, their travel and accommodation expenses will be borne by the Indian government.

Solar cells contain semiconductors that use sunlight to generate electrons, which are harnessed to produce electricity. If the semiconductor in a solar cell is composed of nano-scale wires or dots, the number and mobility of charged electrons greatly increase, multiplying the amount of electricity produced, according to many scientific studies. VSL can manufacture such tiny wires that 10 billion of them can fit in a square centimeter, with each of those wires insulated from all the others by its own coating of glass.

The CUA laboratory is an international leader in creating such nanofilaments, and has patents on processes to create them and devices made from them.

"The current limit on the efficiency of solar cells - the percentage of solar energy that can be converted to usable electric power - is about 30 percent," says Dutta. "Using nanotechnology we will be able to significantly increase the efficiency of solar cells."

Solar cells using such nanotechnology will also be cheaper to produce because manufacturing the nanofibers utilizes "the time-tested and cost-effective technology of fiber optics perfected by the telecommunications industry," says Dutta. He predicts that nanotech solar cells could be developed and brought onto the market in three to six years.

The importance of solar energy can't be overestimated, says Dutta, who explains that fossil fuel and nuclear power will increasingly fall short of meeting the world's energy needs.

"Even if 100 percent of the planet's non-solar renewable energy sources - hydroelectricity, wind power, geothermal energy, biomass and tidal power - could be converted into electric energy, that wouldn't come close to meeting the world's projected energy needs in the year 2100," he says.

"The only realistic source of energy to fill this gap is solar. One hour of the sunshine that reaches the face of the Earth is equivalent to all the energy mankind needs for an entire year, if we could harness it completely."

MEDIA: For more information, contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy in Catholic University's Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.