Competitively priced electricity from easily manufactured solar cells is the aim of a Penn State researcher’s project funded for up to $1,231,000 over three years by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Craig A. Grimes, professor of electrical engineering, will partner with Honeywell to develop solar cells for efficient, low-cost, large-area, scalable solar energy conversion. The solar cells will be based on titanium dioxide nanotubes and organic semiconductors.

The DOE is investing up to $13.7 million in 11 breakthrough solar energy projects. Each recipient and their industrial partner are expected to supply at least 20 percent of the total cost. The aim of the program is to help industry partners to advance manufacturing processes and products. To this end, projects are expected to retain commercialization focus and move toward rapid transitions to market-ready products and manufacturing.

Grimes’ project builds on his existing titanium dioxide nanotube and organic semiconductor solar cell that has a conversion efficiency of 4.7 percent. He plans to experiment with a variety of combinations of tube lengths and thicknesses and pore sizes to arrive at the best combination to achieve photoconversion efficiencies of 6 to 8 percent.

To achieve better efficiency, Grimes will optimize the nanotubes; develop a better pentacene, which is derived dye, to capture the sunlight; and investigate ways to scale up the device for large-scale energy production.