Ramki Kalyanaraman, associate professor with a joint appointment in the Departments of Materials Science & Engineering and Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering
Gerd Duscher, associate professor in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering
Professors Duscher and Kalyanaraman have co-founded a Knoxville-based start-up company, SunJoule Materials, and obtained venture capital funding to file for a pending patent to make clothing into an efficient converter of light into energy. They propose a technology to make high efficiency, light weight and flexible solar fabric based on hollow polymer fibers and inorganic solar cells. Their project is based on the premise that two common features are generally found in every human activity: the presence of light, either from the sun or man-made sources, and the presence of fibers, such as in the clothes we wear.
This technology would not only help make individuals more energy independent, but enable scaling up of light energy harvesting products to carpets, curtains, tents, and even textile-based solar farms, as shown in the figure. They also envision an immediate impact in applications requiring energy sources far away from convenient locations, such as when rescue workers and the military are deployed in disaster-affected or remote areas.
At UT, Duscher and Kalyanaraman are attempting to make this technology a reality. They secured seed funding from the Sustainable Energy and Education Research Center (SEERC) at UT to begin investigations, and they are now working in a collaborative fashion to demonstrate a scaled-up version of the fiber solar cells shown in the figure below. These collaborations involve multiple disciplines within UT, including students from Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) and Physics as well as faculty from CBE and from Materials Science and Engineering. Besides demonstrating that such devices can be produced at low cost due to the kitchen-sink type techniques required to make them, they also anticipate high efficiencies, besides being light weight and flexible, so that it can revolutionize the solar and power generation industries. They hope to place the US and UT at the forefront of renewable energy.