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A major societal challenge is to generate terawatts (TWs) of electricity with minimal environmental impact. The Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) Engineering Research Center will transform the existing electricity generation system towards a sustainable and ubiquitous one by developing photovoltaic (PV) technologies with higher efficiency and novel functionality. QESST will meet the TW challenge by enabling a large, sustained growth rate of photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation by circumventing the trade-off between efficiency increases and cost decreases, allowing PV devices that are scalable to commercial production and which provide a route for continuous improvements in performance and affordability. The first thrust supporting this goal directly addresses the energy generation system itself through development of technologies and policies which will allow the scale-up of novel PV devices into large-scale manufacturing, enabling the PV industry to rapidly reach TW levels of energy production. QESST's second thrust seeks to charter a "Moore's Law" for photovoltaics via breakthrough improvements in solar cell efficiencies to ultimately realize structures with dramatically higher energy generation per unit volume of material, a primary parameter driving cost reduction. Finally,the third thrust augments the other two by means of fundamental research directed towards realizing the theoretical thermodynamic limit of solar-to-electric conversion (~85%) through a variety of state-of-the-art approaches which overcome the limitations of single bandgap solar cells (~32%). These involve advances in basic material science and defect control, photonics and light trapping, energy conversion science, and advanced nanofabrication and characterization techniques.



Jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy


August 2011 — July 2016