Dennis Pruzan, a materials science and engineering Ph.D student, is innovating the future of solar energy. In collaboration with professor Michael Scarpulla, he is researching how to make cadmium telluride (CdTe or “Cad Tell”) thin film solar cells that could disrupt the solar energy market.
CdTe is in the class of thin-film solar cells that are hundreds of times thinner than traditional silicon-based solar cells. “Cad Tell modules are currently cheaper to produce than silicon ones, which are the most commercially produced photovoltaic panels. Silicon is the material most roof-top solar panels are made of,” Pruzan said.
“Traditionally, when you think about solar, you think about silicon, which owns over 90 percent of the market share,” he said. “From a material-usage standpoint, you can use a lot less with thin-film technologies.”
Their research is focused on developing an even cheaper method to deposit CdTe films. Current state-of-the-art CdTe is deposited using high temperature and under vacuum, which is very energy intensive. Pruzan is researching how to deposit the films at low temperature and at atmospheric pressure, which could represent significant cost savings if similar material quality can be achieved.
The research is currently in its early stages, but has received a $125,000 grant from the Utah Science and Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR) through the Energy Research Triangle program (ERT) to develop their first prototype (shared with BYU and Utah State). He’s also received a USTAR student grant of $1,100.
“That’s what’s been pushing this research. We filed a provisional patent with the U for this method,” Pruzan said. “This is going to be part of my thesis, my dissertation. We’ve submitted a manuscript on this, so hopefully that will be published soon.”
Find this article and a lot more in the 2017 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers and entrepreneurs.