UA Optics Expertise Fuels $3.7M in US Funding
Optics and photonics researcher Robert Norwood, whose solar-energy work spans two technology development programs, has been selected for two projects by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Robert Norwood, a University of Arizona professor of optical sciences, has been awarded $3.7 million by the Department of Energy's Advance Research Programs Agency to make significant advances in the efficiency of both photovoltaic and concentrated solar technologies.
The agency, known as ARPA-E, selects technology development projects based on their ability to enhance the nation's economic and energy security. Successfully selected projects promise to help reduce energy-related emissions, improve energy efficiency in all economic sectors, and ensure the U.S. maintains a technological advantage in developing and deploying advanced energy technologies.
"Dr. Norwood's selection for two ARPA-E projects is a testament to the outstanding value of his research in optics and photonics for the nation — but it also brings tremendous benefit to our students," said Thomas Koch, dean of the College of Optical Sciences. "Dr. Norwood's work exemplifies the vast contributions that optical sciences makes as an enabling technology for our future. In this case, it is energy, but its impact ranges from national security to biomedicine, communications and entertainment technology."
"The Department of Energy's recognition and funding of the work being done in the College of Optical Sciences is gratifying," UA President Robert C. Robbins said. "Energy security is one of the greatest challenges we face as a society, and the work of Dr. Norwood and his colleagues is an example of the University of Arizona's leadership in this critical area of innovation. I am proud that the UA is at the leading edge of advancements in harnessing the potential of solar energy and maximizing its related technologies."
Norwood's solar energy work spans two specific technology development programs, called FOCUS and MOSAIC.
FOCUS, which stands for Full Spectrum Optimized Collection and Utilization of Sunlight, seeks to create hybrid solar energy systems, which combine the best elements of both photovoltaic and concentrated solar technologies to get the most out of the full solar spectrum, generating both electricity and heat within the same system.
"The key to our approach in FOCUS is the design of a proprietary, dichroic mirror that spectrally separates the solar spectrum, sending the most efficient parts of the spectrum to the appropriate conversion technology mounted in an integrated unit," Norwood said.
The final milestone of the FOCUS program will be a demonstration of a prototype unit that has been installed at a satellite campus facility in west Tucson.
"The demonstration should show successful and efficient collection of sunlight for both photovoltaic electricity and heat that can be directly used or stored to enable the generation of electricity after the sun goes down," Norwood said.
MOSAIC, which stands for Micro-Scale Optimized Solar-Cell Arrays Integrated Concentration, seeks to develop technologies and concepts that will lower the cost of solar photovoltaic systems and improve their performance. Photovoltaic systems currently generate only about 1.1 percent of the total power in the U.S. For various reasons, existing technology will have to improve dramatically before it becomes economical enough for mainstream market adaptation.
MOSAIC seeks to advance the efficiency of domestic use of photovoltaics through concentration methods that use optical components to concentrate sunlight by more than 200 times into high-efficiency solar cells, leading overall panel efficiencies exceeding 30 percent.
"One of the chief limitations of solar energy is the large area that is required to generate useful amounts of energy," Norwood said. "Our MOSAIC program will enable cost-effective reduction of this area by 50 percent."
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