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BP to Fund Solar Project at Caltech

Times Staff Writer

Oil giant BP pledged $5 million Tuesday to fund a five-year solar project at Caltech that would explore using tiny silicon rods to make solar cells absorb sunlight more efficiently.

The research supplements a smaller collaboration between BP and Caltech that focuses on improving existing solar technology, said Jean Posbic, director of product development at BP Solar.

“With this agreement, we’re looking even further into the future, about five to 10 years out,” he said.

Under the new venture, Caltech scientists Nathan Lewis and Harry Atwater would lead experiments with solar cells made from tightly packed nanorods.

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BP and Caltech describe the nanorods as “small cylinders of silicon” that can be 100 times smaller than a human hair.

“Nobody has done solar cells using nanorods,” Posbic said. If it works, he added, “We’ll be able to capture more of the solar light and turn more of it into electricity.”

Lewis, an expert in surface chemistry and photochemistry, said nanotechnology could provide “new and unique ways to make solar cell materials that are cheaper, yet could perform nearly as well as conventional materials.”


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