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GCEP investigators win international prize for renewable energy research

Pair recognized for their cutting-edge work on plasmonic photovoltaics

May 28, 2012

A major international prize in renewable energy research has been awarded jointly to Albert Polman of the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM) and Harry Atwater of the California Institute of Technology for innovative work that was funded in part by the Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP). The collaborators will share the € 200.000 euros (approximately $250,000 US) Eni Renewable and Non-conventional Energy Prize to be presented at a ceremony in Rome on June 15, 2012, in the presence of the president of the Italian Republic.

“We are grateful to GCEP for providing significant funding for our plasmonic photovoltaics research and helping us earn this incredible honor,” Polman said.

Albert Polman Photo

Albert Polman

Harry Atwater Photo

Harry Atwater

Polman and Atwater’s research addresses the two key problems in photovoltaic technology: 1) conventional solar cells do not convert all light from the sun into electricity; and 2) solar cells are relatively expensive to manufacture because of high materials costs. These problems can be partly solved by better control over the capturing and absorption of sunlight in the solar cell. Polman and Atwater call this “light management,” a term that is now used worldwide in solar cell research.
Polman Atwater Technical Diagram

Light trapping in plasmonic solar cells

Plasmonic photovoltaics are engineered metallic structures that localize light and can be used to enhance the absorption of sunlight in ultrathin semiconductors. In 2007, Polman and Atwater (with co-principal investigator Mark Brongersma of Stanford) embarked on a GCEP-sponsored research program to create plasmonic structures for use in inorganic thin-film photovoltaics. The research team investigated how plasmonics could be used to reduce the thickness of the active layer in solar cells, creating low-cost, high-efficiency devices that are thin, light and flexible.

More than a dozen journal publications have resulted from their recently completed GCEP program. Their final GCEP technical report listing five key results is available online.

“GCEP is delighted that the outstanding scientific contribution of this team has been recognized by this prestigious award from Eni,” commented GCEP Director Sally Benson.

The Eni Award was established to stimulate innovative energy and environmental research and to create new generations of researchers. For more information, see the May 21, 2012, FOM press release.

Polman/Atwater Group Photo

Researchers from the groups of GCEP investigators Albert Polman, Harry Atwater and Mark Brongersma at a photovoltaic workshop.



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