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Cover Story

August 28, 2006
Volume 84, Number 35
p. 17

Solar Power

Hunting for 'Disruptive Technologies'

Jeff Johnson

At the end of an interview, Lawrence L. Kazmerski stands, smiles, and hands a visitor a bright-red gift: a "solar" necktie, created and manufactured to his own design.

Warren Gretz/NREL

Shining Sun Kazmerski holds a mix of thin-film laminates and other photovoltaic products, the fruits of NREL solar research

Kazmerski, like other National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) scientists, is a true believer in renewable energy, and he suffers from no lack of enthusiasm for his solar jobs, both as tie designer and director of NREL's National Center for Photovoltaics.

"We do everything here from looking at atoms to testing solar arrays," Kazmerski says. He is also excited about President George W. Bush's new Solar America Initiative, a $65 million jump in government funding for solar projects. It will take the federal solar energy budget to $148 million in 2007, if Congress goes along with the proposal. The goal is to make photovoltaic (PV) energy competitive with other sources of electricity by 2015.

Only $45 million of that funding will go to NREL, however, which is less than the lab got last year for solar R&D. Kazmerski is undaunted and hopes that increased U.S. government involvement will lead to new PV technologies and cheaper products.

Last year, around the world, the solar industry sold 1.7 gigawatts of photovoltaics, he says, which works out to nearly two nuclear power plants' worth of electricity. Kazmerski expects that amount to go up a lot if the U.S. market revives. Right now, the U.S. makes and buys very few PV units, he notes; most units go to Japan and Europe.

"However, the world's PV market is growing by 30% a year," he says. "It is a real business with people making money."

As a demonstration of that growth, Kazmerski notes that last year PV manufacturers used half of the world's silicon and are now competing with semiconductor and microelectronics companies for raw material. About 95% of the world's photovoltaics are silicon-based modules, he says, but he believes that will change soon.

He expects volumes to increase, prices to decline, and the world to begin using non-silicon-based thin-film technologies that are the second generation of solar photovoltaics. "The films look good and blend well with architecture, providing weatherization protection and electricity."

"But what we need is disruptive technologies," he says. He points to thinner and thinner solar wafers, quantum dot solar cells, and organic-based technologies that could be applied with a paintbrush or an ink-jet printer. Kazmerski wants to greatly improve today's manufacturing technologies, which he says are "Neanderthal" by current standards.

The U.S., he says, still owns the research, but all of the manufacturing and commercialization has gone offshore. Still, he wants NREL and its industrial partners to develop new technologies and advanced manufacturing methods to outpace those of today. Kazmerski hopes this will lead to a new home-grown solar industry, selling disruptive technological products to the U.S. market.

"We have to continue to have the science ownership in the U.S., but we should turn it around and develop disruptive technologies for the future and manufacture the products here," he says.


Power Surge For Lab

Energy crisis and presidential initiative bring new visibility to decades of research at 30-year-old National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Splitting Water

Renewable Hydrogen

Beyond Corn

Biomass To Bioenergy

Solar Power

Hunting for 'Disruptive Technologies'

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2010 American Chemical Society

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