Science and Technology News

Monday, December 12, 2011

As Defense Department Focuses on Renewable Energy, New Solar Cells May Be Key

The US Department of Defense has set a goal to provide 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, according to a recent report in National Defense magazine. Analysts forecast that military bases will increasingly be in the market for more reliable and secure energy solutions, and some of the largest Defense Department suppliers have already responded to the drive for green technology by aiming to develop electric “smart grids” to be used on military bases.

“Besides smart grids, another facet of ‘green tech’ in which the Defense Department has expressed interest is the next generation of solar cell technology,” says Dr. Ashok Sood, President and CEO of Magnolia Solar, a company developing and commercializing high-efficiency, nanostructured thin-film solar cells. “As the advantages of thin-film solar cells become more widely known, their potential military applications will become clearer as well.”
The US Air Force has already awarded two Phase I contracts to Magnolia Solar: one to develop flexible, ultra-high efficiency, multi-junction solar cells for space and defense applications; and one to develop third-generation, single-junction solar cells employing quantum dot structures to improve performance. The company has also been awarded a Phase I contract from NASA as part of a program to increase solar cell current and voltage by using quantum-structured active regions and incorporating advanced light-trapping structures.

Based in Woburn, MA and with research facilities in Albany, NY, Magnolia Solar—which aims to do business with a range of commercial customers worldwide in addition to the military—hopes to achieve an efficiency greater than 20% and a cost goal of 50 cents per watt, significantly exceeding the current industry averages for efficiency and cost. In order to achieve these numbers, Magnolia is innovating proprietary nanotechnology that can capture a wider band of the solar radiation falling on the cell. The nanostructured surface of the cell reduces the amount of light that reflects off it, essentially trapping more light so that a greater percentage of photons are available for conversion into electricity.

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