Sunrise brief: Air Force funds development of solar PV sheets for use in space


The U.S. Air Force awarded the University of Toledo $12.5 million to develop photovoltaic energy sheets that would harvest solar energy in space to transmit power wirelessly to Earth-based receivers or to satellites.

Researchers will develop flexible solar cell sheets, each roughly the size of a piece of paper, that can be assembled into larger structures.

One space-based solar array could include tens of millions of sheets and be as large as a square mile. An array that size could generate about 800 MW, the researchers said.

“With 37% stronger sunlight above the atmosphere than on a typical sunny day here on Earth’s surface, orbital solar arrays offer a critical opportunity to harness renewable energy, achieve sustainability goals, and provide strategic power for a wide range of orbital and airborne technologies,” said Dr. Randall Ellingson, a member of the university’s Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization who will lead the five-year project.

Work will focus on developing tandem solar cells on thin, flexible supporting materials. The researchers will sandwich a variety of combinations of solar cells, including perovskites, silicon, cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium selenide.

They also will explore lightweight, flexible supporting material to create the solar cell sheets. Those materials also need to be resilient, ultra-thin and tolerant to high and low temperatures. Semitransparent and thin ceramic, plastics, and glass all are under consideration.

In 2019 the U.S. Air Force awarded Ellingson’s team $7.4 million to develop solar technology to power space vehicles using sunlight.

Volta Energy battery and storage fund

Volta Energy Technologies announced an initial closing on its venture fund focused on batteries, energy storage, and related hardware and software required to enable the use of lower-cost electric vehicles and renewable power generation.

The battery and energy storage markets are projected to grow by nearly 25% by 2025. The new fund closed with $72.6 million of committed capital in December and will continue to accept additional capital commitments through the end of the first quarter. The firm’s pledge fund launched in 2017 with the backing of Albemarle, Exelon, Equinor and Hanon Systems.

The fund has deployed capital into investments including:

  • Natron – A supplier of high-power, fire-safe Sodium-ion batteries using Prussian blue chemistry for applications that need a quick power discharge, such as data centers, fast charge of electric vehicles, electric forklifts, and small electrical grids.
  • Smart Wires – A company that has developed intelligent hardware that acts as a router for electricity to travel across underutilized power lines to optimize integrating renewable power and energy storage on the grid.
  • Ionic Materials – A materials company that enables non-flammable, high-energy, lower-cost solid lithium batteries for  transportation and grid applications.

Solar-equipped libraries for emergencies

The Brooklyn Public Library is outfitting the roofs of four buildings with solar energy backup systems that will help provide their surrounding area with safe havens during emergencies.

Local nonprofit Solar One is partnering with the library system to install the solar panels. The nearly $1 million project is being funded through the New York State Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, and is one of many projects planned for the borough’s coastal areas to better prepare for emergencies.

In the event of a power outage, the libraries would disconnect from the power grid and use a battery system to provide electricity. Residents could charge their electronic devices or use any emergency services that may be available during a power outage.

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