Lighting the way for the next generation of solar cells

Lighting the way for the next generation of solar cells

Undergraduate Angela Ramos works in Professor Feimeng Zhou's lab.Undergraduate Angela Ramos works with Professor Feimeng Zhou in the lab.Mechanical Engineering major Oliver Ta works in an engineering lab.

Since she can remember, undergraduate chemistry student
Angela Ramos has dreamt about being part of a “bigger change” for the earth and
the environment.

“My family and I have always been into recycling and
saving,” Ramos said. “And that was good—but it wasn’t enough.”

Well, the developing chemist and soon-to-be-Cal State L.A.
graduate student, got her chance to participate in something “bigger” when she
was accepted as a research fellow in the Center for Energy and Sustainability.
Working alongside fellow students and professors with expertise in
photochemistry, electrochemistry, fuel cell engineering and materials
engineering, she has added to a collective body of research focused on improving
solar cells.

“It’s helped me understand chemistry and concepts in
renewable energy at a whole different level,” Ramos said of the center.

While photovoltaic cells, which create solar energy by
converting sunlight into electrical power, are one of the “greenest” ways for
producing power, the popularity and widespread implementation of the technology
has been limited because of cost and efficiency concerns. Experts say that
efficiency in solar photovoltaic cells currently ranges from only 10 percent to
25 percent.

“Solar energy harvesting, as practiced today, is still in
its infancy,” said
Mechanical Engineering Professor Adel Sharif. “Widespread
harvesting of solar energy requires advances in materials science among other
disciplines … and that will result in devices with higher efficiency and lower

To move the field forward, Cal State L.A.’s
multidisciplinary research team—which also includes professors
Feimeng Zhou,
Radi Al-Jishi,

David Blekhman and
Matthias Selke—is testing new materials for
solar cells and working to optimize everything from how solar cells absorb light
and transfer energy, to the intensity of the electrical current produced. In
particular, CSULA researchers are looking at these areas in relation to Quantum
Dots, semi-conducting nano-crystals that absorb more light and have the
potential to reduce costs and raise efficiency of solar cells—if issues in
fabrication, stability, and energy transfer can be addressed.

With their results, the team hopes to construct a “new and
improved” solar cell.

“The opportunity to bring scientists and engineers together
is one of the nice things about working in a center like CEaS,” said Selke, who
is an expert in the field of photochemistry, having studied for years how
various compounds absorb light and participate in energy transfer—two important
steps in the creation of solar energy.

“It’s very satisfying to see how your basic scientific
research can lead to more interesting applications,” he added.