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DSU receives grant for solar research and education

Delaware State University is receiving federal funds to fuel solar technology research at the school.

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded DSU a $326,139 grant as part of its SunShot Diversity in Science and Technology Advances National Clean Energy in Solar (DISTANCE-Solar) program which aims to aims to promote solar research while offering Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education opportunities to groups underrepresented in those fields.

Specifically, the SunShot program encourages research and innovations that will drive down solar installation costs by 75% by the year 2020.

Delaware State will use a portion of the funding to develop and implement its first course on solar energy. The remainder will go to research on thin-film solar technology that allows solar cells to be printed or sprayed onto surfaces like stainless steel, reducing solar panels size and weight.

DSU Assistant Professor of Chemistry Daniela Radu, the principal investigator of the grant, says the goal is to move beyond the heavy and fragile silicon based panels now in use.

“In our approach, we have a solution process on flexible surfaces so they will be very very light weight panels and pretty straight forward to install,” said Radu. “You can consider making shingles out of this material. That’s how we are contributing to reduced cost, by making it simple, by making the technology affordable, and the solar panels lightweight.”

Another unique aspect of the technology is that it is largely iron-based, making it sustainable. “Iron is one of the most abundant elements on the earth’s crust,” adds Radu.

Radu says that solar is a major part of the country’s sustainable energy sources and shows promise of future growth thanks to this technology.

“The expansion in solar energy usage will drive a growing need for more workers – manufacturing workers to make solar panels, construction workers to build power plants, solar photovoltaic installers to install solar panels, and more,” said Radu. “In this context, providing solar-related education to students from underrepresented groups is aligned with this job opportunities growth and with the need of having a diversified workforce in solar-related jobs.”

Delaware State was one of two schools selected for a SunShot grant. The other is the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Radu says it’s a major step forward for DSU’s work in this arena.

“I think what the Department of Energy values the most [about our research] is its novelty and originality. [This grant] confirms that the idea is both original and also feasible for future commercial application. You have confidence that what you’re doing is meaningful.”