A Cornell-led collaboration received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to use machine learning to accelerate the creation of low-cost materials for solar energy.
The three-year project, “Formulation Engineering of Energy Materials via Multiscale Learning Spirals,” is led by principal investigator Lara Estroff, professor of materials science and engineering in the College of Engineering, in partnership with co-PI John Marohn, professor of chemistry and chemical biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as researchers at University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Those researchers include co-PI Paulette Clancy, the Samuel and Diane Bodman Chair of Chemical Engineering Emerita, now at Johns Hopkins University, and alumni Josh Choi, Ph.D. ’12, with University of Virginia and David Moore, Ph.D. ’14, of NREL.
The collaboration originated in an earlier project, funded by the Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR), which brought together a team that included Estroff’s expertise in crystallization and structural characterization and Clancy’s computational modeling of semiconductor materials, to explore a class of materials called hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites – crystal structures that can efficiently convert light into electricity.
This type of perovskite is especially noteworthy because it has the potential to be grown from solution, rather than processed with high temperature, and so can be manufactured via low-cost methods, such as inkjet printing and slot-die coating, on a wide range of substrates, Estroff said.
This makes perovskites bright candidates for photovoltaic cells. The reason the material is still in the lab and not in the solar panels on your roof is threefold: perovskites are difficult to scale up, they are unstable, and they are challenging to reproduce reliably.
“We think we can solve all of these problems,” Marohn said. “This is like the dream team for solving them. You have people who have made breakthroughs in various areas. And now we get to put all of these breakthroughs together.”
Estroff’s lab, which has done extensive work in biomineral growth, previously observed how the crystalline precursors develop, which gave the researchers the idea that they might be able to steer how perovskites crystallize into a stable…
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