Worcester Polytechnic Institute Researchers Receive NSF Awards to Develop Better Ways to Capture and Store Solar Energy

From left, Lyubov Titova, assistant professor of physics, Pratap Rao, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Aaron Deskins, associate professor of chemical engineering in the NanoEnergy La

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), funded by two significant National Science Foundation (NSF) grants and an award from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, is developing materials to generate and store more energy from the sun, which could make solar energy more efficient, less expensive, and more widely available.

The first project is focused on discovering new materials for solar cells that could boost their efficiency and make them less expensive to manufacture. The second seeks to lower the cost of producing hydrogen using solar energy or electricity from other clean energy sources. (Generating hydrogen could be an effective way to store solar energy). The projects are led by Pratap Rao, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

“We are excited about these projects because of the impact they can have on clean energy in the future,” Rao said, “and because they are very interesting problems to tackle.”

Rao received a three-year, $314,065 award from the NSF in early August to develop a lower-cost catalyst for an electrochemical process that can generate hydrogen from water. He is working with co-principal investigator Aaron Deskins, associate professor of chemical engineering, on the new award.

The grant complements a $409,274 NSF award received in 2016 to fund the development of new, lower-cost materials for solar cells, a project Rao is conducting with Lyubov Titova, assistant professor of physics. All three researchers are core members of the WPI’s new Energy Research Group.

Though sunlight…

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