Industry-Sponsored Research Week

New consortium seeks to enhance U.S. role in solar energy production


By David Schwartz
Published: July 7th, 2020

A detailed article on the new US-MAP consortium appears in the June issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For complete subscription details, click here.

The University of Washington and its Washington Clean Energy Testbeds, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Toledo, along with a group of leading solar companies, have formed the U.S. Manufacturing of Advanced Perovskites Consortium, or US-MAP (www.nrel.gov/research/us-map.html).

The group aims to accelerate the domestic commercialization of technologies based on perovskites, an emerging class of materials with properties ideal for solar energy that can be inexpensively produced. The participating companies will have access to, and support in, the universities’ and NREL’s cleantech fabrication, characterization, and testing facilities. Founding companies, including BlueDot Photonics, Energy Materials Corporation, First Solar, Hunt Perovskites Technologies, Swift Solar, and Tandem PV, will serve as members of the industry advisory board, which will identify R&D directions and priorities and will also be involved in the selection and evaluation of projects. The aforementioned founding organizers will serve on the executive board and will oversee delivery of projects.

“The University of Washington was involved in the earliest stages [of perovskites research],” says J. Devin MacKenzie, PhD, a UW professor and director of Washington Clean Energy Testbeds. “I think there was a recognition that this was an opportunity for the U.S. from a lot of perspectives in looking for an alternative to silicon.”

Solar cells, he notes, are predominantly manufactured in Asia and assembled in the U.S., “but some newer technologies, like the first solar telluride, had been done more successfully out of the U.S. manufacturing model,” he explains. “Recognition of that, and also of that fact that a lot of investment was going on all over world, indicated that the U.S. needed to take part and really push and make [perovskites technology] a commercial reality.”

If key stakeholders in the U.S. “just sat on our hands,” he continues, this might not have happened by itself — or it might have happened too late. “China has been investing so heavily — in many multiples of the U.S.,” MacKenzie explains.

“The real conception [for the consortium] was from the University of Washington and NREL,” adds Jared S. Silvia, PhD, CEO and co-founder of BlueDot, a Seattle-based start-up building solar panels and other photonic devices. “They then went on to engage industrial partners; it’s important to have people who are going to be able to commercialize.”

At the Washington testbeds, MacKenzie explains, industry “can come in immediately and with easy IP terms. If you come and pay on an hourly basis, you retain 100% of the IP.” This policy was in place prior to the consortium, he points out. “We saw that maybe we’d want to incorporate at least parts of that model so it would be more accessible to smaller companies; we certainly want there to be an element of open access — perhaps some NREL, and some testbeds.”

Access to the lab can be critical for start-ups, he continues, which might otherwise have to pay between $100,000 and $1 million or more for the unique equipment it offers. “Even if you know you want to use it, it can a take a year or more to get up and running,” he points out. “Our site is there, and the staff can run it or train you.”

Now available: Solar Energy Research: Grants, Contacts, Start-Ups, Patents & Joint Ventures. In this one-of-a-kind report, you’ll learn from key universities in the solar energy research sector worldwide – plus gain insights into trends in activity and support from government, foundations, and industry. Click here for details.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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