Research Matters

Research Matters

Nanotechnology for Renewable Energy

Researchers say the sun outshines every alternative in its ability to provide clean energy. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

Aired October 12, 2008

2 minutes (2.7 MB) | Download mp3


A multidisciplinary team at KU and partner institutions is devising nanotechnology that could help supplant fossil fuels and curb climate change. Led by Judy Wu, University Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy at KU, the researchers want to develop better, less-costly solar panels and biofuels. Wu explains the focus on solar.

Judy Wu: If you fully use wind energy, for instance, you can only cover about 20 percent of our energy need of 14 terawatts per year. And our energy requirement is going to double by the middle of this century and triple by the end. But the wind is not going to increase. And if you look at fossil energy, we're going to burn out our resources probably within some short time frame of 100 or 200 years. But with solar - if you look at our 14 terawatts per year in need - you only need one hour of sunlight to deliver this much energy. The sun's energy is the singular solution for our increasing energy needs.

According to the KU researcher, current solar technologies are inefficient and too expensive, leading to slower-than-necessary adoption of photovoltaic technology.

Judy Wu: So we really need breakthrough technology to speed up use of solar energy Out of the total 14 terawatts per year energy use for the world, only 2 percent is solar," Wu said. "This includes photovoltaic and biofuel. If you look at the photovoltaic market, it is increasing at an extremely high rate of 40 to 50 percent per year. But if you grow at this same rate, it will take many, many years for solar to dominate.

Wu said innovations in solar energy production using nanotechnology would create a "third generation" of PV panels.

Judy Wu: The first generation was traditional silicone wafer-based solar cells with efficiency capped at 31 percent, as predicted by theory," Wu said. " The second generation tried to take the same performance, but drop the cost dramatically by one or two orders of magnitude. For the third generation, we want to go toward extremely high performance, and take advantage of the second generation in terms of low cost. It eventually could play a big role in energy generation.

For more about nanotechnology for renewable energy, log onto Research Matters dot K-U dot E-D-U. From the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

Tell Me More

KU researcher: Better solar technology a 'singular solution' for world energy need

A team of physicists, engineers, chemists and biologists at the University of Kansas and partner institutions is devising nanotechnology that could help supplant fossil fuels and curb climate change.

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