As more economies around the world are looking for sustainable and competitive green energy alternatives, our province is keeping up with the race by exploring solar as an option. Solar energy has a number of benefits over other energy sources, such as reducing air pollution, energy conservation, the offset of greenhouse gasses and reducing the need for battery disposal.
Thanks to recent funding from Umoe Solar New Brunswick through the Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF), University of New Brunswick researchers are collaborating with researchers from the company to look at ways to make solar energy more cost efficient.
The project is called Advanced Solar Energy Conversion. UNB researchers Sean McGrady and Felipe Chibante are looking at ways to create a more efficient silicon production process for the use of solar panels and to develop new technologies that will make solar panels better at energy capture and conversion.
Dr. McGrady, with the department of chemistry at UNB, says silicon used for solar energy is chemically the same as that used in the electronics industry, but solar silicon has lower purity requirements.
“Silicon used for solar energy does not have to be refined to the same levels as silicon used in electronics,” said Dr. McGrady. “We’re looking at creating a more solar-specific way of processing raw silicon, which will have significant cost-saving implications.”
Harsharn Tathgar, the research and development director of Umoe Solar, said a big reason why the company recently set up shop in New Brunswick was because of the research opportunities available here.
“While Umoe Solar is setting up its present plant in Miramichi to adopt off the shelf technologies in producing polysilicon, our company looks forward to incorporating results of this research to place it ahead of competitors in terms of costs of production.”
This project, with total estimated costs of $6.3 million, received approximately $3 million from the AIF over a four-year period. An estimated $2 million will be spent on the research undertaken at UNB. This collaboration along with the AIF funding is expected to result in the creation of a new Solar Research Centre to be created in Fredericton and has provided the university with the opportunity to hire four post docs., eight PhD students and six masters students to work on this project.
Dr. Tathgar hopes that this partnership with UNB continues long-term to create more R&D opportunities that will improve the next generation of solar technology.
“We are confident that the partnership built with the university through this research collaboration will result in other R&D projects in the future.”
Umoe Solar was established in 2007 and is proposing to build a $700 million polysilicon plant in Miramichi. Polysilicon is the main material used in the production of solar cells. The company envisages that its R&D results will help create products that are competitive with conventional electricity.
Established in 1785, UNB is one of the oldest public universities in North America. With more than 12,500 students from more than 100 countries, UNB has the best student-to-faculty ratio of Canada’s comprehensive universities, according to Maclean’s magazine. As the largest research institution in New Brunswick, UNB conducts over 75 per cent of the province’s university research. The university has more than 3,500 faculty and staff, and an annual operating budget of more than $160 million. UNB’s two main campuses are located in Fredericton and Saint John, New Brunswick.
St. Pierre, Communication Officer (506) 458-7969