BU lab among world leaders in solar innovation

By Erika Mahoney

September 5, 2013 Updated Sep 5, 2013 at 11:04 PM EST

Vestal, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Solar technology produced in a Binghamton University lab is among the best in the world in efficiency.

That lab, Binghamton University's Center for Autonomous Solar Power, is filled with graduate students whose eyes light up when they discuss their research.

Graduate student Navjot Sidhu said she spends about 80 hours per week inside the lab, but she isn't complaining.

"It's like my home," electrical engineering graduate student Navjot Sidhu said. "I'll come here and I'll stay. I won't think about time."

Sidhu and her teammates are working to create technology that's unlike anything on the market.

"The goal of this group is to make a solar cell out of non-toxic, earth abundant materials," said materials science graduate student Abhishek Nandur. "So no cadmium, no indium. Pretty much everything we use contains copper, zinc, tin, sulfur, aluminum, oxygen. So everything is available at a lower price."

By using those elements, the scientists hope to create technology that's more cost effective and safer for the environment.

They are also striving to create solar cells that are thin, flexible and accordingly available for a wider range of uses.

"You can imagine, in some settings, you could take a roll of this material on the back of a truck, put two stakes in the ground and unroll 1,000 meters of it and have a significant solar energy source for emergency situations," said Charles Westgate, the director for the Autonomous Solar Power lab. "These materials could be incorporated in lots of materials we use."

Westgate said the technology could even be wearable. And he believes it could be on the market by 2020.

He credits their progress to his team of students.

"I think this lab, everybody, puts in the effort to help each other and we have scientists, we have researchers that really help us," said science and industrial engineering graduate student Matt Peng.

The students said they do it because they are fascinated by the research and striving to lower the carbon footprint of current solar technology.

"I hope, honestly I want to do something, even a small step toward reducing global warming, or creating a cleaner atmosphere," said electrical engineering graduate student Amin Emrani.

While Westgate said they are working to become the world leader with their solar technology efficiency, their main goal is to produce a tool that is inexpensive and practical.