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BHSU chemistry faculty and students work to improve solar energy efficiency

 
 Dr. Katrina Jensen, Black Hills State University assistant professor of chemistry, and Black Hills State University students Samantha Petit, chemistry and environmental physical science major from Belle Fourche, and Dylan Dobbs, chemistry major from Hot Springs, are working on a research project that could lead to the development of less expensive solar cells.
Dr. Katrina Jensen, Black Hills State University assistant professor of chemistry, and two undergraduate chemistry students, are working on a research project that could lead to the development of less expensive solar cells.

The BHSU professor and two students Samantha Petit, chemistry and environmental physical science major from Belle Fourche, and Dylan Dobbs, chemistry major from Hot Springs,  are currently working on a project looking at options on the molecular level that might increase efficiency  of solar cells.

For nearly two centuries, scientists from all over the world have researched the most efficient way to convert light into electricity.

 Major strides have been made from the first photovoltaic effect experiment to the solar panels now used on homes around the world.  However, solar cells used in the solar panels, are now made with highly refined crystalline silicon which remains expensive.The cost keeps many people from using this type of renewable energy, Jensen said.

Advanced solar energy technology that uses materials other than silicon could significantly reduce the cost of solar energy.  

“We are looking at using chemistry to make new dyes and testing their efficiency and see how they work,” Jensen said.

The dye-sensitized solar cells, which are named for the colored molecules that enable them to absorb sunlight, being studied by Jensen, along with her students, are potentially less expensive to make than other types of cells but still lack the efficiency of silicon.

“Our goal is to study (the cells) on a molecular level to increase efficiency,” Jensen said. The development of highly efficient materials that cost less than current technology could potentially lead to future production of new, better solar devices, she said. Their work is still in the early stages.

“We are still working on the chemistry part of it – building new dye molecules,” she said.“We hope to be able to build dyes, test them and then design something that’s even better.”

Jensen’s research is supported by a National Science Foundation program called the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. The program promotes the developmentof science and technology research in smaller states giving them a more competitive edge on a national level.  This project is one of many underway at BHSU which gives students the opportunity to participate in faculty mentored research on issues that have national and international impact. Other students at BHSU are currently doing research on malaria, drought, Native American medicinal plants, and prairie rattlesnakes.

BHSU recently received nearly $300,000 from the Board of Regents for laboratory equipment to support the University’s growing research programs in biomedical research and renewable energy. Some of these funds were used to purchase an instrument to test the efficiency of new solar energy devices.

“It’s great,” Jensen said of the new equipment. “We can do everything here. We can build and test the materials.”

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