Designing New Materials for Harvesting Solar Energy

2007-10 New Investigator Award

Emily Carter’s team is using quantum mechanics methods to create more efficient and inexpensive solar cells. The project has demonstrated band-gap engineering of nickel and manganese oxides. Carter has received external funding from the Department of Energy and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to continue this GC-seeded work.

Our dependence on fossil fuels threatens our very survival on the planet. Our survival is at risk because of the unavoidable production of CO2 when such fuels are burned, which in turn contributes to global warming.

This project concerns the ultimate clean, renewable, non-CO2 producing energy resource, the sun. Solar energy can be used for three purposes:

  • Somewhat trivially for heat, by focusing the sun’s rays onto absorbing media;
  • To produce liquid fuels via ‘photocatalysis’; and
  • To produce electricity via ‘photovoltaics’.

State-of-the-art quantum mechanics methods are used to optimize properties of novel bio-inspired inorganic materials with the aim to improve the efficiency level ~ 20%. These methods are also used to optimize bio-inspired catalysts to produce H2 and other fuels.

The goal is to find combinations of metals and oxygen that are inexpensive and efficient, which will be on primary concern for any mass production and use later on.

Educational Impacts

With the support of the Siebel Energy Challenge, Carter and faculty colleague Sigurd Wagner developed the new course:

  • ElE/MAE/ENV/EGR 431: Solar Energy Conversion

Participating Department

Related Media and Press Coverage


Arthur W. Marks ’19, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied and Computational Mathematics
Sigurd Wagner
Professor of Electrical Engineering