CSU launches solar R&D center; Abound Solar co-founder to lead

Colorado State University Professor W.S. Sampath, co-founder of Abound Solar, will lead a new $2.5 million solar research-and-development center in partnership with industry to explore next-generation solar technology.

Abound Solar, one of the university's most successful spinoffs with more than 300 employees, will take a leadership role in the new CSU center, called the National Science Foundation Industry and University Cooperative Research Program. The NSF has provided funding of $450,000 or $90,000 a year for five years; industry participants also will contribute a total of $400,000 per year to participate in the center.

Other companies participating include 5N Plus, Pilkington, Ion Edge Corp., and MBI Corp.

Sampath serves as the center's principal investigator. Other key researchers are V. "Mani" Manivannan (Co-PI) and Hiroshi Sakurai, professors in mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, and Jim Sites, a physics professor and associate dean of Research for the College of Natural Sciences.

"We have an industrial advisory board that decides what projects to pursue, which also gives them some rights with regard to the intellectual property," Sampath said. "With current technologies, we can convert about 10 percent of sunlight into electricity and the goal is to double or triple that, which will make solar electricity more commercially attractive. We've built a machine that will explore a whole bunch of ideas."

"This is a great opportunity to leverage the strong research capabilities of Colorado State University to develop new solutions that address the needs of the industry," said Anders Olsson, Abound Solar senior vice president of research and development and chairman of the center's Industry Advisory Board. "Together, we will improve the efficiency of solar photovoltaics."

Sampath and his colleagues Al Enzenroth and Kurt Barth began to investigate low-cost photovoltaic solutions - focusing on thin-film cadmium telluride technology - in Sampath's Materials Engineering Laboratory at CSU in the early 1990s. They formed a spinoff, now called Abound Solar, in 2007 with the support of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden. In 2008, Abound attracted $104 million in venture capital - more than any other Colorado company that year.

At capacity, Abound's Longmont production facility is expected to churn out 200 megawatts of solar modules annually using a proprietary in-line semiconductor deposition process that converts sheets of glass into solar modules in under two hours.