LAWRENCE — A researcher at the University of Kansas has earned an Army Research Office Young Investigator Award grant to conduct research on cutting-edge photovoltaic technology intended to give American forces tactical advantages in the field.
"My YIP Award primarily focuses on the material design and assembly to reach highly efficient photovoltaic nanodevice systems," said Shenqiang Ren, assistant professor of chemistry. "In addition, our discovery of multifunctional photovoltaic nanomaterials will enable us to build an integrated photovoltaic and sensing system, which has dual functionalities."
Ren's work focuses on materials chemistry, synthesis and self-assembly of low-dimensional nanomaterials. For the Army, the researcher said he would be investigating "flexible, durable and highly efficient nanosystems that could be manufactured at low cost for handheld and wearable nano-PV-sensing circuits to large arrays for Department of Defense applications."
Ren said his work could lead to improvements in a variety of devices used by the military by employing "self-assembled nanophotovoltaics" built upon less than a 100-nanometer-thickness photoactive layer.
As reference, a sheet of paper is roughly 100,000 nanometers thick.
"The less material usage but high efficiency could have multiple advantages, such as portability and flexibility, as well as environmental compatible processing," he said.
The three-year, $210,100 grant enables Ren and his team at KU to pursue work that lines up with “current Army interests” such as development of nanomaterials with exotic properties, which could enable applications like self-powered sensing nanodevices that don’t require batteries.
According to the Army Research Office, its mission is "to serve as the Army's premier extramural basic research agency in the engineering, physical, information and life sciences, developing and exploiting innovative advances to ensure the nation's technological superiority."
Ren said his lab would use a "bottom-up" approach tailored to the requirements of American forces.
"This is in comparison to the current 'top-down' method," he said. "We’ll start with the material design based on performance needs and build up the energy nanosystems by assembling the nanobuilding blocks, such as nanomaterials we synthesized in my lab."