Drs. Felix Castellano and Pavel Anzenbacher

Drs. Felix Castellano and Pavel Anzenbacher

State grant boosts next-generation energy research

A new grant from the Ohio Research Scholars Program (ORSP) will support progress toward creating the next generation of photovoltaics—the direct conversion of sunlight to electricity—as well as the next generation of fuels and energy-efficient lighting, now being developed by BGSU and the University of Toledo.

Both universities have been deeply involved in the alternative energy arena for many years; the grant strengthens the “photovoltaics cluster in the region by leveraging existing research activities at the universities,” according to the Ohio Third Frontier Commission.

BGSU researchers Drs. Felix Castellano and Pavel Anzenbacher, chemistry and photochemical sciences, will use the $1.7 million they will receive of the overall $8.9 million ORSP grant to bring two research professors to their labs for the five-year duration of the program, and to assist with other associated operating expenses.

An important goal of the program is attracting talented scientists to campuses and reversing the exodus of talent from the state. “That’s how you grow,” Anzenbacher said.

“The program is directed at energy-relevant projects: producing and utilizing energy more efficiently,” Castellano said. “The grant builds on existing strengths and infrastructure.” BGSU, UT and Ohio State University are all sites of the Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization (PVIC). The center is “very infrastructure-heavy,” providing the state-of-the-art hardware and facilities, according to Castellano and Anzenbacher. The Northwest Ohio Innovators in Thin Film Photovoltaics grant gives support for personnel and operating costs.

Castellano’s research centers on energy-relevant technologies including photovoltaics, and methods of utilizing solar energy to produce chemical fuels such as hydrogen from renewable sources.

Anzenbacher’s research group focuses on developing organic, light-emitting materials, which use energy much more efficiently than traditional incandescent and phosphorescent tubes. “We’re working on solid-state technology to produce less expensive general lighting,” Anzenbacher explained of the more environmentally conscious technology. “Because a substantial portion of U.S. energy consumption is used for lighting, more efficient light sources lead to a lower demand for energy,” he said.

The lead faculty member on the grant is UT’s Dr. Robert Collins, the Nippon Electric Glass Endowed Chair in Silicate and Materials Science in the physics and astronomy department. Dr. Sylvain Marsillac, also a physics faculty member, is the co-lead at UT and assisted with critical aspects of the proposal, identifying the mechanisms through which new personnel can link to and collaborate with the Ohio photovoltaics industry.

With the new funding, UT will be adding three new faculty members to PVIC for fall 2009. “The Ohio Department of Development is putting its confidence in us that we help to support and expand the solar industry in Ohio,” Collins said, pointing out that overall funding for the photovoltaics center is $18.6 million, with nearly $30 million in cost-share commitments.

The BGSU and UT teams have partnered many times before. “There’s a long history of working together and individual expertise we can take advantage of,” Castellano said.

Because of complementary work on different aspects of photonics, or how light interacts with molecular and solid-state systems, Collins said, “there’s a nice overlap and opportunity to collaborate.” The BGSU-UT collaboration was one of only two proposals from Ohio to “get the green light from both the National Academy of Science and the Ohio Department of Development,” he noted.

“BGSU is doing world-leading scientific research but it also links well into the regional strengths in glass and polymers and promotes regional economic development,” Collins said.

As part of the Third Frontier project, the ORSP provides grants to strengthen and increase the number of clusters of research excellence, led by Ohio's academic institutions that support regional economic priorities. Jointly funded and administered by the department of development and the chancellor of the board of regents, the program will achieve this through “aggressive investment in the attraction of senior research talent and related facilities and equipment, and promotion of unique collaborations needed to build and sustain scientifically and commercially promising lines of research.” The ORSP is placing high priority on building a critical mass of research scientists and engineers in five targeted technology/research focus areas.

“It’s great to be working in a state that is actually investing in these technologies,” Castellano said, noting that Ohio is somewhat unusual in that regard.

The BGSU-UT collaboration grant is one of 10 funded by the program for more than $143 million.

September 15, 2008