A consortium led by the University of Delaware could receive up to $53 million in funding. The group's mission: to double the efficiency of solar cells within 50 months.
It is the largest award in the history of solar energy research, Rhone Resch, president of the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement released by the University of Delaware.
The federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is expected to contribute as much as $33.6 million to the project. The remaining $19.3 million is expected to come from the university and corporate team members.
Delaware is leading a consortium of 15 universities, corporations and laboratories to enhance solar cell technologies, an initiative that has commercial and military implications.
High-end solar cells, used to power military equipment, operate at about 24.7 percent efficiency. Researchers are hoping to reach 50 percent efficiency.
The increase would allow a soldier to charge an appliance twice as quickly, said Dr. Allen Barnett, principle investigator and research professor in Delaware's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Barnett said the research could have an impact on any appliance a soldier uses that is currently operated by batteries.
"About half the packs that they carry are purely batteries, so we can lighten their load and make it safer for them," said Dr. Christiana Honsberg, co-principal investigator and Delaware associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.
Barnett expects the more efficient cells to have an impact on home and business electrical appliances as well. "This technology will definitely migrate to the next generation of devices for homeowners," he said.
The university is leading a consortium of researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the University of Rochester, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Purdue University, the University of California-Santa Barbara, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, the University of New South Wales, Yale University and Carnegie Mellon University.
Delaware is also partnering with DuPont, BP Solar, Corning Inc., LightSpin Technologies and Blue Square Energy on the project.
Barnett and Honsberg had previously been doing work in solar cell research and were on a 10-year track to double the cells' efficiency, Barnett said.
"This opportunity vastly improves our pace and our resources," said Barnett, who expects to have about 40 graduate and undergraduate students working on the project.
Rep. Michael Castle, released a statement Wednesday congratulating the university.
"Having previously visited troops in Iraq, I believe the portability of these solar cells will have a huge positive impact for our troops in the war zone and elsewhere," he said. "By doubling the efficiency of solar cells our soldiers will continue to have the best equipment in the world."