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New center gets $4 million for solar energy research

By : Eric Coker

The University’s Center for Autonomous Solar Power (CASP) will help address the nation’s energy problems and lead to economic expansion, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey said during an Oct. 22 ceremony on campus.

Schumer and Hinchey visited the Innovative Technologies Complex to announce
$4 million in funding for CASP. The latest addition to the University’s existing New York State Center of Excellence in Small Scale Systems Integration and Packing (S3IP), CASP focuses on tapping into the sun’s supply of renewable energy and making it more accessible as a flexible, large-area and low-cost power source.

President Lois B. DeFleur thanked Schumer and Hinchey for their “strong support” in securing the funding.

“This is an exciting investment in the University and yet another step in the advancement of the Center of Excellence and its research,” she said. “It is vital that we look at long-term future energy generation from solar power, and Binghamton University is the right place to do just that.”

CASP will address the scientific challenges of reducing the cost of solar power and enhancing energy efficiency. The multidisciplinary center will draw expertise from engineering, computer science, chemistry and physics to focus on areas such as solar conversion efficiency, storage capabilities, solar module stability and power system cost reduction. 

The center also will work with industry to develop new technologies for defense, energy, aerospace, consumer and industrial markets by focusing on solar power sources integrated with new product designs. Potential applications include transportation communication systems, power generation for buildings and devices that will charge cell phones and laptops without the use of batteries.

“Taking the sun’s energy and converting it into electricity is something we’re just at the dawn of,” Schumer said. “The research we are doing here is groundbreaking.”

“We need a new industrial revolution,” Hinchey said. “Now we’re on the cutting edge of a potential for new changes that are going to advance this country and provide us again with the opportunity to be leaders around the world.”

Both Schumer and Hinchey said the CASP research is directly related to the energy debate and discussion happening around the country during the presidential campaign.
“One of the major issues is: How are we going to deal with the energy problems in this country?” Schumer said. “There are high costs, unreliability and the environmental damage that fossil fuels create. Probably the best answer is solar power.”

Building on the expertise of S3IP, which incorporates the Center for Advanced Microelectronics Manufacturing and the Integrated Electronics Engineering Center, CASP will develop thin-film solar modules. Mimicking nature’s own energy-conversion processes, these ultra-thin technologies will allow for the design of layered devices that capture all frequencies of the solar spectrum.

Using a sustainable model that demands that the individual device will generate much more energy in one year than it takes to manufacture, CASP researchers will be able to develop new and cost-effective applications.

Seshu Desu, dean of the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science and CASP director, said the sun provides enough energy in an hour to last humankind for a full year.

 “The only challenge,” Desu said, “is how can we harness that energy?”

“We all feel the pinch of rising energy costs and, as a society, need to explore alternatives,” he said. “At the Watson School, our faculty and students are working on addressing the greatest challenges of our technology-intensive society and harnessing low-cost alternative energy sources is at the forefront of our priorities.”

Gerald Sonnenfeld, vice president for research, stressed the benefits of government, industry and academia working together.

“CASP builds on the strengths of both the University and the region — a region that is rich in the history of technology,” he said. “It’s an example of what happens when innovative partnerships are carefully nurtured and developed.”

Hinchey, who expects CASP to receive additional government funding in the future, sees three steps for the center: conducting the research, setting an example of excellence and using that excellence to provide jobs to the region by appealing to manufacturers.

“The research being done is going to have a powerful impact on the creation of jobs and the growth of the economy in the region,” he said. “The attention of people around the country, more and more, is turning to Binghamton University.”

“A place like this,” Schumer said, “is the hope of the future of the Southern Tier and the hope of America.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08