The US Department of Energy (DoE) has unveiled an investment of up to $30 million to accelerate the development of modules and materials to drive down the cost of solar energy.
The DoE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has partnered with Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, to create the Durable Module Materials (DuraMat) National Lab Consortium, which will receive the funding over five years from the DoE’s SunShot Initiative. SunShot funds projects designed to accelerate the market competitiveness of solar power.
The consortium has three key goals for its efforts to reduce the cost of solar energy by hastening development of more cost-effective photovoltaic module materials, according to the DoE.
DuraMat plans to develop module technologies that will allow for significant reductions in the cost of energy from solar power; build an active network of collaborations within the US national labs, academia, and industry to develop and deploy advanced module materials; and move materials and technologies that show promise out of the labs and into the market as quickly as possible.
The new consortium is part of the DoE’s Energy Materials Network (EMN), launched earlier this year by the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) to support the efforts of US entrepreneurs and manufacturers to develop clean energy and compete effectively on a global scale. Teresa Barnes, from NREL's Materials Science Center, will be the director for DuraMat, while Anthony Martino of Sandia National Laboratories will be the deputy director.
"DuraMat provides easily accessible capabilities that bring the national lab and university research infrastructure together with the PV (photovoltaic) and supply-chain industries," Barnes said of the consortium. "Our research strategy integrates data analytics, module durability testing, prototyping, predictive modeling, field deployment, materials discovery, materials forensics, and technology transfer to accelerate module material development and reduce the cost of electricity from photovoltaics."
Module materials already account for 40% or more of the total cost of PV modules, Barnes said. Lowering their cost by identifying opportunities for durable, high-performance, and low-cost materials to develop their components will significantly reduce the cost of solar, she said.
To that end, DuraMat will open up the industry expertise of the DoE national laboratories to the solar industry and academia to help them quickly develop, characterize, and deploy these materials to improve the value of PV modules for various solar stakeholders, including manufacturers, plant developers, financiers, and utilities, she said.
DuraMat is the latest EMN consortium created by EERE in the quest to make the scientific advancements of the DoE national labs available to various industries. The office created three other consortia this year, including the Lightweight Materials Consortium (LightMat), which focuses on lightweight materials for various applications; the Electrocatalysis Consortium (ElectroCat), which focuses on new catalysts in fuel cells; and the Caloric Cooling Consortium (CaloriCool), which focuses on refrigerant materials for cooling applications. The office plans to unveil three more consortia in the coming months.
Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.