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Solar Energy Focus of Northwestern, Argonne Research Center

May 15, 2007 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Helping the world meet increasing energy needs through solar energy will be the goal of a new research center established by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University.

The Argonne-Northwestern Solar Energy Research Center, or ANSER Center, will combine and expand the research interests of both institutions to address the grand scientific challenges posed by the need for economically viable solar energy use.

“Global energy needs will double by 2050 and triple by 2100,” said Michael R. Wasielewski, professor of chemistry in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of the new center. “An increase in the use of solar energy is essential for meeting this need in an environmentally responsible manner.”

Researchers at the ANSER Center will come from both Northwestern and Argonne and will examine new economical ways to use sunlight to produce clean fuels, such as hydrogen, from water and to produce electricity directly from low-cost photovoltaic and thermoelectric systems.

“The scientific challenges to achieving these goals are complex and cross-disciplinary, requiring an integrated systems approach,” said George Crabtree, director of Argonne's Materials Science Division and deputy director of the ANSER Center. “Argonne and Northwestern each have a long history of accomplishment in solar energy research, as well as a culture of interactive team approaches to problem-solving. Add the world-class complementary expertise and facilities, and the result should be real breakthroughs in understanding fundamental solar energy conversion mechanisms and the ability to dramatically improve the efficiency of converting solar energy to fuels and electricity.”

Another goal is to educate a science and engineering workforce able to solve cross-disciplinary energy problems through educational opportunities available through the collaboration.

Key scientific challenges that will be addressed through the ANSER Center are:

• Coupling light energy to catalysts to produce clean fuel;
• Developing interfaces between different materials to greatly increase the performance of organic photovoltaics;
• Developing nanoscale electrode architectures within solar cells to increase their performance;
• Developing new materials to directly convert solar heat to electricity with high efficiency.

Argonne and Northwestern have other partnerships, including research areas such as superconductivity, nanoscale science and engineering, and materials science. The two institutions also have a 40-year tradition of joint appointments to integrate research.

Initial funding for the ANSER Center comes from support from both institutions. In addition, center members currently receive federal support in the solar energy field.