News Column

Engineer Aims for Solar-cell Breakthrough

Oct.10, 2012

Dan Gearino

In the basement of an Ohio State University lab, an engineer says he has found a way to dramatically increase the efficiency of solar-power cells.

If he can develop a durable and inexpensive application for the technology, he could change an industry.

Until then, he is raising money and continuing research with a $50,000 grant from TechColumbus.

"Most people can't understand the problem, so they can't see the solution," said Waseem Roshen, the owner and sole employee of SS Power Technology.

As he sees it, the problem is that too much power gets lost in transit between the surface of the solar cell and the battery. His invention is a circuit board that dramatically reduces the amount of power lost. The board, about the size of a Matchbox car, goes right behind the cell. Each one costs $20 to $30.

The potential commercial applications are vast because the technology would allow for solar panels that are smaller and much more efficient than what are on the market today. This could be used for utility-scale power generation and to make a solar-powered version of portable electronics such as cellphones.

Roshen earned his doctorate in physics from Ohio State in 1982 and then had a career working in energy electronics for companies such as General Electric. Five years ago, he came up with his idea at a solar-power conference in Germany, and he has gradually developed a prototype. He splits time between Columbus and performing contract engineering work outside the area.

In the lab, he has been able to increase a cell's efficiency by more than 50 percent. He is working with OSU graduate students and with Longya Xu, an electrical-engineering professor.

"As a researcher, you're always looking for people who have an original idea," Xu said.

The solar industry is filled with talk about significant advances in efficiency, but most don't pan out in the market, said Greg Kuss, founder of SolarVision in Westerville, a solar-power project manager.

"As a solar developer, (a boost in efficiency) would be a dream come true," he said. He is not involved with Roshen's work.

TechColumbus, a non-profit business incubator, saw enough promise in Roshen's plan to provide a grant and office space.

"He just has an insanely clever new design," said Gary Rawlings, director of technology commercialization for TechColumbus.

But it's not enough to have a good design and make it work in the lab. Next, Roshen needs to raise money to move on to the steps that will make or break his company. The circuit board needs to get smaller, cheaper and more durable, and it needs to produce its results in the elements.

How much will that cost? For now, Roshen said, he needs at least $300,000 to pay for the next year's worth of work.

He will face doubters.

To get a feel for what the skeptics might say, The Dispatch contacted Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., and described some of the ideas behind Roshen's work. Abraham Ellis, a researcher at the lab, said he doesn't see how the addition of a circuit board could lead to a dramatic change in efficiency.

"There is a little bit of optimization that can be done, but it is not a game-changer," he said.

If a circuit board could boost efficiency, the next concern is whether the cost is low enough to produce a net savings, Ellis said.

Roshen has patents pending on his design, and he is eager to demonstrate his work to anyone who might be interested.

Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2012 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)


Story Tools