Binghamton University’s Center for Autonomous Solar Power ranks second in the world for solar technology efficiency


BINGHAMTON, NY -- The new lab at Binghamton University’s Center for Autonomous Solar Power (CASP) recently passed the one-year mark and what a productive year it has been. Currently CASP ranks as second in the world in terms of demonstrating the efficiency of its solar technology. According to University officials, becoming the leader in efficiency is within reach, hopefully within the next year.

The CASP is a multidisciplinary research center that functions as part of the University’s Center of Excellence in Small Scale Systems Integration and Packaging (S3IP).

The lab is currently working with thin film solar cells. The University is not only making a name for itself because the cells are harnessing solar power more efficiently, but because it is going about the process in the most cost effective and environmentally friendly way.

“Unlike some other solar technologies, we are utilizing abundant materials found on earth that are non toxic,” said Roger Westgate, CASP director and University Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “In our labs we utilize copper, zinc, tin and sulfur, which we refer to as CZTS, to produce our flexible solar cells. So far they have shown tremendous potential.”

The goal is to create thin, flexible substrates using these safe materials. It is not only good for the environment but also more cost effective in the short and long term. Accessing the materials for research purposes is less costly than other rare, less abundant materials. Also, when the time comes for these flexible solar products to be mass-produced in industrial settings, the costs borne by companies will be less than current technologies. This will eventually make the products more affordable and accessible for consumers.

Currently the lab is providing the ideal space for two teams to work on two different approaches to perfecting the flexible solar cells. The two teams provide a friendly but competitive environment and also provide a more time sensitive approach to reaching world-class efficiencies.

“It’s allowing us to explore two separate paths at the same time,” says Westgate. 

Westgate says several exciting partnerships are in place and on the horizon. CASP already partners with small companies in Upstate New York on energy storage solutions. The CASP is also currently in talks with the other universities to share information, equipment and research capabilities. It is hoped the work done between the schools will expedite the research done at Binghamton University as well as take the advancements achieved so far, to the next level. Westgate also says the University and its partners are seeking a grant for a new piece of sophisticated and costly equipment that is necessary to fully realize the potential of these flexible solar cells.

“Solar energy is one of the most promising sources of energy and right now only 1% to 2% of the energy produced comes from solar powered technologies,” says Westgate. “A more reasonable goal is 10% and Binghamton University plans to play a lead role in boosting those numbers.”

Westgate says he is proud of the work already accomplished by the CASP, especially its use of the earth abundant and non-toxic materials. He is also particularly proud of the students who have been educated and trained by the research currently occurring at the CASP. Finally, he is proud of the private sector partnerships that have been developed that will most certainly lead to business and job growth in New York State. He says fostering economic development is not only a goal of the University but it is also its responsibility. 

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Last Updated: 9/17/13