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DOE to Establish Energy Frontier Research Center to Study Solar Photophysics at Los Alamos National Laboratory

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the White House announced 46 new multi-million-dollar Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) on April 27th, 2009, in conjunction with a speech delivered by President Barack Obama at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. The EFRCs, which will pursue advanced scientific research on energy, are being established by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science at universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms across the nation. The Research Center to Study Solar Photophysics will be lead by Dr. Victor Klimov from Los Alamos' Chemistry Division. Los Alamos was chosen to lead another EFRC as well.

carrier multiplication
A process called “carrier multiplication” allows a single photon to generate an additional electron upon striking the solar collection surface. Carrier multiplication will be an important component of the research strategy of the EFRC team.

“As global energy demand grows over this century, there is an urgent need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil and curtail greenhouse gas emissions,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “Meeting this challenge will require significant scientific advances. These Centers will mobilize the enormous talents and skills of our nation's scientific workforce in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to make alternative and renewable energy truly viable as large-scale replacements for fossil fuels.”

The 46 EFRCs, to be funded at $2-5 million per year each for a planned initial five-year period, were selected from a pool of some 260 applications received in response to a solicitation issued by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science in 2008. Selection was based on a rigorous merit review process utilizing outside panels composed of scientific experts.

“We envision that research conducted at this center will build practical foundations for generation-III solar energy conversion technologies that produce high conversion efficiencies, using inexpensive scalable structures and routine chemical fabrication methods.” -Victor Klimov, Center Leader

EFRC researchers will take advantage of new capabilities in nanotechnology, high-intensity light sources, neutron scattering sources, supercomputing, and other advanced instrumentation, much of it developed with DOE Office of Science support over the past decade, in an effort to lay the scientific groundwork for fundamental advances in solar energy, biofuels, transportation, energy efficiency, electricity storage and transmission, clean coal and carbon capture and sequestration, and nuclear energy.

The focus of the The Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics EFRC will be to develop novel approaches, materials, and designs for harvesting sunlight and converting it into electricity with greater efficiency than current technologies allow. Researchers will be using the unique properties of nanoscale “quantum dots” to bypass conventional limitations. Research along these lines by Klimov and colleagues has already shown great promise, and the EFRC will bring the technology down the road from laboratory studies and proof-of-concept. The EFRC has planned collaborations with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the University of Minnesota, the University of North Carolina, the University of California-Irvine, Rice University, the Colorado School of Mines, and the University of Colorado. DOE plans to fund this center at a level of $3.8 million dollars its first year, with total funding of $19.0 million over a five-year initial award period.

An example of the complex nanostructures that will be studied in the Center. A gold nanoparticle is overcoated with a silica shell and an outer layer of quantum dots. These nanostructures can harvest solar light more efficiently than traditional solar cells.

Of the 46 EFRCs selected, 31 are led by universities, 12 by DOE National Laboratories, two by nonprofit organizations, and one by a corporate research laboratory. This EFRC will provide employment for postdoctoral associates, graduate students, undergraduates, and technical staff. For more on the EFRCs.


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