Padture awarded $1.5 million grant from Department of Energy

Brown Engineering professor Nitin Padture has won a $1.5 million, three-year grant from the Department of Energy. The project, in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado, aims to improve the stability and reliability of perovskite thin-film solar cells by enhancing the mechanical adhesion toughness of the cells’ key interfaces, while enhancing the power-conversion efficiency. 

To create stronger bonding between the perovskite thin films and the adjacent functional layers in the multi-layer stack of the solar cells, the project team will incorporate self-assembled monolayers at the interfaces. They will also fabricate and optimize cells and mini-modules, test their stability, and study and model the degradation mechanisms.

“Perovskite solar cells are a new type of photovoltaic (PV) technology that are potentially cheaper to manufacture, and their efficiency is approaching that of conventional silicon-based PVs” said Padture. “Unfortunately, what makes these solar cells easy to make also makes them less stable and reliable -- these are formidable hurdles in the path toward the successful commercialization of this attractive new technology.  So, our research is aimed at getting around this dichotomy, that is where much of innovation lies” he said. “The creative use of ‘molecular glues’ at the interfaces allows us to not only enhance the efficiency of the solar cells, but also make them more stable and reliable over their useful life,” said Padture. “This grant, which partially supports two graduate students (Anush Ranka and Zhenghong ‘John’ Dai) and two postdoctoral researchers (Tara Nietzold and In Seok Yang), will go a long way in achieving this goal,” he added. “I am grateful to Brown for providing an additional $375,000 in cost-share to augment this grant.”   

Padture is the Otis E. Randall University Professor in the School of Engineering. His research interests are in the broad area of advanced ceramics and nanomaterials for applications ranging from jet engines to solar cells. In April 2021, he was selected to present the Brown University Presidential Faculty Award lecture by University President Christina Paxson, where he spoke about the promise of innovations in solar PVs. The series of lectures was established to recognize members of the Brown faculty who are conducting especially important and innovative scholarship and to create an opportunity for recipients to present their work to colleagues in other disciplines.

Padture has published over 260 papers (including seven awarded patents), which have been cited over 26,000 times, and he has presented over 250 invited/keynote/plenary talks. A Fellow of the American Ceramic Society, Padture has received that society’s Roland B. Snow, Robert L. Coble, and Richard M. Fulrath awards. He is also a recipient of the U.S. Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2017, he was honored by his undergraduate alma mater, Indian Institute of Technology (Bombay), with the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Padture is editor of two top journals in the field of materials science and engineering: Acta Materialia and Scripta Materialia.