Dr. Troy Townsend, assistant professor of chemistry, was awarded a $100,000 grant for his research on solar cells by the Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) program. This program is funded by the state of Maryland and provides money for projects that are able to benefit the Maryland economy by opening up new jobs. The state funding goes to a university in order to pay for research towards developing a specific product or process for a company to then market. Dr. Townsend won this award for his work to develop new solar cell technology.
“We have made the world’s first inorganic spray on solar cell,” Dr. Townsend said. The implications of this directly impact everything about how solar panels are currently made and are installed. “Most [solar panels] are currently made out of silicon, which is expensive to make and difficult to install.” The panels must be made out of high-purity silicon in a vacuum at extremely high temperatures and because of their bulk and weight, the glass coverings over the panels can break easily during installation. Dr. Townsend’s inorganic solar cell can be easily sprayed or printed onto a surface and, at 5nm in diameter, is significantly thinner and lighter than any solar panels being installed onto homes or businesses today.
This project has provided more opportunities for undergraduate research at SMCM and “I would not have been able to do this without [the students working with me],” Dr. Townsend said. In addition to gaining hands-on research opportunities and practical experiences, the chemistry students he worked with “are learning how to use state of the art equipment and machines that they usually would never have been able to be exposed to,” he said.
With this grant, Dr. Townsend will be working with Solar Tech Inc. which is located locally in Leonardtown, MD. The company is run by SMCM graduates and specializes in solar electric and heating for residential and commercial properties. Dr. Townsend “first met them at an alumni weekend where we gave a co-presentation on solar cells,” he said. Dr. Townsend spoke on the physics behind how solar power works and the future and development of new ways to harness solar power, while the Solar Tech Inc. representatives spoke about the current solar energy systems which can be utilized and installed now.
“We are very excited to partner with the College to develop new solar technology that can be applied both for commercial and residential applications,” Jeff Croisetiere, ’04 SMCM alumnus and project manager for Solar Tech Inc, said in an article on smcm.edu.
Dr. Townsend is motivated to work on developing cheaper, and easy-to-install solar panels because at the moment, they are too expensive for most people to afford. He hopes that almost everyone would be able to afford his new system and therefore being able to utilize solar energy would become more prevalent. Additionally, he is motivated to continue this research with hopes that it will “allow the average person to have the opportunity to not use as many fossil fuels,” he said.