Prestigious grant

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Nov. 17, 2014

Richard Lunt awarded the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Award in Environmental Chemistry

Richard Lunt, whose solar energy research at the Michigan State University College of Engineering has attracted the attention of researchers and media around the country, has been awarded the prestigious Camille and Henry Dreyfus Award in Environmental Chemistry.

The highly competitive $120,000 grant adds a postdoctoral researcher to Lunt’s research team for two years.Graduate student Yimu Zhao works with Richard Lunt on a transparent luminescent solar concentrator.

Lunt is an assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. He is one of eight recipients nationwide to receive the Dreyfus Award, joining researchers from the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Northwestern, the University of California-Berkeley, University of California-San Diego, and the University of Wisconsin.

The award will advance MSU’s work on perovskites, a new type of absorber material for solar photovoltaics being developed to make solar cells more affordable for general use.

“Hybrid perovskite solar cells have emerged very rapidly in the last few years with an impressive performance trajectory,” Lunt explained. “We anticipate they eventually could become competitive with, and even higher efficiency than silicon solar cells with lower cost.” 

“But, there are still a number of challenges to utilizing these materials including reliability and toxicity. Our group is focused on developing and understanding new perovskite materials to address these challenges.”

Leo Kempel, dean of the College of Engineering, said the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Award in Environmental Chemistry is a validation of the exciting work on solar energy research at MSU. “It will allow us to attract a top postdoc candidate and push the boundaries of what these exciting new semiconductor materials can do,” Kempel added.

Solar energy that doesn’t block the view
Lunt leads a team of researchers at MSU that has developed a new type of solar concentrator that creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through the window. This transparent luminescent solar concentrator can be used on buildings, cell pGlowing infrared light can be guided to the edge of the plastic where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.hones and any other device that has a clear surface.

Energy research on luminescent plastic-like materials is not new, Lunt said. Past efforts have yielded poor results – the energy production was inefficient and the materials were highly colored.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” Lunt said. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.”

The solar harvesting system developed by Lunt and his team absorbs specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,” he said.

The “glowing” infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.

“Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye.”

Lunt said more work is needed to improve the concentrator’s energy-producing efficiency. Currently it is able to produce a solar conversion efficiency close to 1 percent, but the aim is to reach efficiencies beyond 5 percent when the material is fully optimized. The best colored LSC has an efficiency of around 7 percent.

Lunt’s research was featured on the cover of a recent issue of the journal Advanced Optical Materials. Other members of the research team include Yimu Zhao, an MSU doctoral student in chemical engineering and materials science; Benjamin Levine, assistant professor of chemistry; and Garrett Meek, doctoral student in chemistry.

Richard Lunt
Lunt is an award-winning faculty member. He received both a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award and DuPont Young Professor Award in 2013.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware in 2004 and PhD from Princeton University in 2010. Just prior to arriving at MSU in 2011, he worked as a postdoctoral associate at MIT.