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Researcher tests topical zinc oxide as solar cell efficiency booster

News Release — 10 December 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media contact: Herb Booth, (817) 272-7075, hbooth@uta.edu

ARLINGTON - Meng Tao hopes his research will let the sun shine in ... a little more efficiently.

Tao, an electrical engineering professor at The University of Texas at Arlington, was awarded a $120,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of an effort to boost power from solar cells through use of zinc oxide as a topical treatment.

"Sunlight spans a broad spectrum. Zinc oxide as a window for solar cells would allow a large spectrum to be used," Tao said. "The zinc oxide window is also an electrode for the solar cells, so the trick is to make the zinc oxide window electrically conducting."

Tao uses a technique called "doping" to make zinc oxide highly conducting, which increases the efficiency of the solar cells.

If Tao is successful in boosting energy from solar cells, that type of power could be used in more applications and more locales, he said, adding that the process should lower the cost associated with solar energy because more energy will be produced.

"It might be a more viable alternative energy for everyone to use," Tao said. "Solar cells have been used on a small scale. This could make them available for a lot more people to use."

The zinc oxide that boosts solar energy in Tao's research is the same zinc oxide people use to block the sun on their noses. The common white zinc oxide people apply on their skin blocks harmful ultraviolet rays in the solar spectrum.

The $120,000 grant is part of the U.S. government's pledge to invest up to $27 million to develop the nation's solar installation infrastructure. The Department of Energy will fund about $5 million of that total from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as well as $22 million in annual appropriations.

The $27 million is part of a larger $300 million package that aims to boost a range of clean energy technologies, including carbon capture from coal, high efficiency cars and trucks, and solar power.

Tao's work is representative of the kind of research under way at UT Arlington, a University of 28,000 on a mission of becoming a nationally recognized, Tier One institution.

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