Solar Cell and Electronic Research to Benefit from NSF Grant

South Dakota scientists’ work building next-generation devices to harvest solar energy will be easier thanks to a National Science Foundation grant for state-of-the-art equipment.

Assistant professor Mahdi Farrokh Baroughi in SDSU’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science said the $250,000 grant will help researchers at South Dakota State University, as well as the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and the University of South Dakota.

“This grant will permit us to purchase a new plasma-enhanced, chemical vapor, deposition system which is very useful for synthesizing electronic materials for a variety of applications,” Farrokh Baroughi said.

Researchers have two immediate uses for the new equipment. One is to make a variety of cost-effective solar cells that can better convert sunlight to electricity. The other is to make next-generation, large-area, electronic devices such as high-resolution and high-power displays, high-resolution X-ray detectors and next-generation scanners and photocopiers.

“We have 12 projects that can directly benefit from this system,” Farrokh Baroughi said.

“Some of these are ongoing research projects; some of them will be initiated once we have the system. It’s a core system that will be useful for many projects,” the SDSU scientist concluded.

In cooperation with colleagues at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and the University of South Dakota, 11 scientists at SDSU are working with photovoltaic technologies that directly convert the sun’s energy to electricity. The different strategies being explored by SDSU include dye-sensitized solar cells, advanced silicon-based solar cells, inorganic/organic hybrid solar cells and polymer solar cells.

What those technologies have in common, Farrokh Baroughi said, is that they all require layers or films of different materials with different semiconducting properties. The PECVD system can be used for synthesis or gas-phase treatment of some of these films.

“By using this system we can first synthesize some of those films and also engineer the semiconducting properties of those films, which includes conductivity, and the photon absorption property,” Farrokh Baroughi said.

In broad terms, the new equipment will allow South Dakota scientists to continue their push to develop photovoltaic devices using new materials that may be able to harvest a wider range of sunlight, thus making photovoltaic devices more efficient.

The grant for the new system runs through Aug. 31, 2010. The new equipment will be installed in a new state-of-the-art Class 1000 cleanroom — designed to allow no more than 1,000 particles larger than a certain size per cubic foot of air — in the basement of a new building now under construction for SDSU’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department. Researchers should be able to use the equipment by about fall 2009, Farrokh Baroughi said.

Farrokh Baroughi is the principal investigator for the new project. Co-principal investigators are Professor David Galipeau, Associate Professor Michael Ropp and Research Assistant Professor Venkateswara Bommisetty, all from SDSU; and Assistant Professor Scott Ahrenkiel at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

Much of South Dakota’s work on photovoltaics moves forward with the help of South Dakota EPSCoR, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, which focuses on research and education in science and engineering, and a new Ph.D. program in Electrical Engineering.

South Dakota EPSCoR supports a program called Photo Active Nanoscale Systems, or PANS, whose chief purpose is developing photovoltaic technologies at South Dakota’s research universities.

More information about PANS can be found at the South Dakota EPSCoR Web site,

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