Luna NanoWorks Uses Stimulus to Develop New Solar Cells

(Nanowerk News) Scientists at Luna nanoWorks in Danville are developing what they hope to be a breakthrough for solar cell technology with stimulus money.
Roanoke-based Luna Innovations was awarded $1.65 million in stimulus money over three years from the Department of Energy for two solar cell projects in Danville, said Kenneth Walker, executive vice president of Luna's technology development division.
About six local scientists and technicians are working on improving the efficiency and manufacture of ingredients for organic or plastic solar cells.
"The goal is not only the benefit of the short-term jobs, but our goal is to develop a whole new technology that will lead to an ongoing business and provide jobs for a long time into the future," Walker said.
Plastic solar cells would be less expensive to produce than the traditional inorganic solar cells using silicon. These cells would also be more lightweight and pliable for solar products.
However, the plastic or polymers aren't as efficient in capturing energy and converting sunlight to electricity. Researchers around the world are looking for solutions.
Yet, Luna's special patented trimetasphere nanomaterials could be used with polymers to improve the performance of these cells.
On Friday, senior chemistry tech John Wall worked in the glove box clean environment and showed how the local team makes test solar cells using different nanomaterial-polymer blends. The researchers then test the solar cell on a simulator to determine the current and voltage produced.
"It's cool because it's all breaking technology," Wall said.
Luna had started on the solar cell research before the stimulus money became available. Funding through the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory also required matching funds from Luna.
Making less expensive solar cells would enable the technology to become commercially successful, Walker said.
"We're encouraged," Walker said. "We have to get back to more innovation to create new technologies, new industries and new jobs. Ultimately, that's what drives the success of the economy."
Luna nanoWorks in Danville also was awarded more than $555,000 in stimulus money in two years for research on how to turn off the allergic response in human cells using fullerene nanomaterials. Ultimately, this could result in developing nanomedicine to treat allergies.
Source: Luna nanoWorks (press release)
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