C3Nano Inc., a team from Stanford University, was named the top winner of the MIT Clean Energy Prize for their revolutionary design that will increase the efficiency of solar photovoltaic panels. The national competition was founded by MIT, the U.S. Department of Energy and NSTAR to accelerate the pace of clean energy entrepreneurship.
The team of PhD chemical engineering students has developed a carbon nano-based transparent electrode that will increase the efficiency of thin film photovoltaic solar panels by allowing up to 12 percent more sunlight to penetrate the panels. The electrode - a conductor through which electric current is passed - is also less expensive, more lightweight and flexible than electrodes made out of conventional materials.
"Our innovation is a cross-cutting technology that not only has the potential to increase the efficiency of solar panels, it can be used in the manufacture of television, computer and cell phone touch screens and electronic displays to increase performance and lower cost," said Melburne C. LeMieux, C3Nano Founder and Chief Science Officer. "Winning this competition literally enables us to take the next step towards moving this important technology out of the laboratory and into the marketplace."
C3Nano was selected - from more than 60 other teams from 35 universities - by prominent judges for their technology's potential impact to enhance existing photovoltaic systems. With production doubling every two years, photovoltaics have become the world's fastest growing energy technology. C3Nano's transparent electrodes can also be used in the $4 billion electronic display and thin film market - offering higher transparency and flexibility at one-tenth the cost of current electrode materials.
"Solar energy technologies diversify energy supplies and offset greenhouse gas emissions, but their costs have so far been a barrier to widespread installation in New England," said Tom May, Chairman, President and CEO of NSTAR and co-sponsor of the prize. "The technology developed by this team is potentially transformative in making solar energy a viable option to consumers throughout the region and has the added benefit of other significant applications."
The MIT Clean Energy Prize provides capital resources and mentoring to help clean energy entrepreneurs from universities across the country to jump start businesses. Now in its third year, the competition has helped launch over a dozen businesses - many of them in Massachusetts - that have raised more than $65 million from private investors and the government.
"The competition continues to attract the nation's brightest minds for turning innovative ideas into marketplace realities to build a clean energy economy," said May.
The C3Nano, Inc. team includes: Ajay Virkar, Jeff Sabados and Melburne LeMieux under the guidance of Professor Zhenan Bao's Chemical Engineering Lab at Stanford University.