The U.S. Air Force recently awarded the University of Toledo (UToledo) $12.5 million to develop photovoltaic energy sheets that would live in space and harvest solar energy to transmit power wirelessly to Earth-based receivers or to other orbital or aerial instrumentation, such as communications satellites.
UToledo physicists will develop flexible solar cell sheets, each roughly the size of a piece of paper, that can be assembled and interconnected into much larger structures. The team will focus on tandem architectures and work with a variety of combinations of solar cells, perovskites included.
"With 37% stronger sunlight above the atmosphere than on a typical sunny day here on Earth's surface, orbital solar arrays offer a critical opportunity to harness renewable energy, achieve sustainability goals and provide strategic power for a wide range of orbital and airborne technologies," said Dr. Randall Ellingson, professor in the UToledo Department of Physics and Astronomy and member of the UToledo Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization who will lead the five-year project.
"This $12.5 million award recognizes our own University of Toledo as a national leader in solar cell technologies and in photovoltaic energy research," said Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. "UToledo's broad partnerships with industry, government and academia represent the best of us and will help cement our region as a player for generations to come in solar manufacturing, research and development."
The team will sandwich a variety of combinations of solar cells, including perovskites, silicon, cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium selenide, to explore what is achievable.
At the same time, the team will explore lightweight, flexible supporting material to create the large solar cell sheets. Those materials also need to be resilient, ultra-thin and tolerant to high and low temperatures. Semitransparent and very thin ceramic, plastics and glass are under consideration.