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UNLV is going big and thinking small as it moves to the forefront of solar energy research. The UNLV Center for Energy Research has installed the world’s most powerful solar energy generator while a UNLV chemist is working to expand solar cell technology.
Research  |  Jul 22, 2009  |  By University Communications

To move to the forefront of solar energy research, UNLV is going big and thinking small.

The UNLV Center for Energy Research recently installed the world's largest and most powerful solar energy generator. Meanwhile, a UNLV chemist is studying microscopic materials to expand the applications of solar cell technology.

System Will Provide Clean Energy

The new photovoltaic system, the Amonix 7700, is the first of its kind. It is capable of converting as much as a quarter of incoming sunlight into electrical energy, making it the world's most efficient system, according to Bob Boehm, director of the center.

The center received the system from Amonix, a manufacturer of commercial high-voltage solar energy systems. UNLV's researchers will analyze the reliability, tracking accuracy, and power performance of the system, Boehm said. It also will be used to teach engineering students about solar energy technology and will provide the campus with several megawatt hours of clean energy.

The Amonix 7700 can produce more than 145-megawatt hours annually. Its instantaneous power output of approximately 70 kilowatts is enough to replace 20 individual house systems.

Solar Cells Practical for Mobile Electronic Devices

Chemistry professor Dong-Chan Lee's research into tiny materials for solar energy generation earned him a prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) -- the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers.

Lee will receive $484,000 over five years to research new organic n-type semiconductor nanomaterials. Because organic solar cells are lightweight, thin, flexible, and promise high cost-efficiency, they are more practical for use in mobile electronic devices and on architectural structures. But the conversion efficiency for organic solar cells needs to almost double before they will become practical materials to use. The current power conversion efficiency of organic solar cells is significantly lower than that of the more traditional silicon solar cells.

Lee's NSF CAREER grant includes an educational outreach component. Over the course of the grant, Lee will provide summer internships in his lab for students from Basic High School and launch a summer research program for Clark County School District science teachers. He also will train and mentor several graduate and undergraduate students from the College of Sciences through work on the project.

Lee joins professors Brian Hedlund and Frank Van Breukelen from the School of Life Sciences, and Chulsung Bae from the chemistry department as the fourth CAREER award recipient in as many years at UNLV.