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Cracking the thin film solar code in GE’s 4 global labs

published: 2011-02-15 14:56

 GE Global Research, which is the hub of technology development for all of GE’s businesses, announced that in the race to have the most efficient, low-cost solar technology on the market, GE is now focusing its extensive R&D efforts on what’s known as “thin film” technology. As we described in our recent audio slideshow with Danielle Merfeld, GE’s solar R&D leader, the vision for thin film solar panels is that they will be lightweight, inexpensive and can one day be wrapped around objects, conform to a roof, or even hung like sails. GE is stepping up the pace of its thin film work in conjunction with PrimeStar Solar Inc., which is an Arvada, Colorado-based startup firm in which GE is a majority investor. As you can see in the audio slideshow below, unlocking the secrets of the complex technology with PrimeStar is a job that is uniting GE’s network of four Global Research Centers — and drawing on the unique expertise found in each.

GE has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D in the last decade, resulting in dramatic expansions at research headquarters in Niskayuna, New York and our center in Bangalore, India; the creation of global research centers in Munich and Shanghai; and new technology centers planned for Detroit, Michigan and Masdar City in the Middle East. Leveraging that global scale can be seen firsthand in the solar project.

The Munich team is using solar system test facilities to study performance. In China, where most of the cadmium telluride — the necessary raw material for thin film — originates, researchers are immersed in materials and the impact they have on device performance. In India, the team is focused on modeling. Unlike the exclusively experimental approach favored by many in this field, the GE team believes that dramatic improvements will result from a deeper understanding of the materials and the basic physics of the device. And in Niskayuna, N.Y., scientists are working on all facets of development, including material growth and development of the device itself. Their technical expertise cuts across fields such as surface chemistry, laser processing and plasma physics.

Said Danielle of the unified effort, “GE researchers are innovating across our four global research centers — literally around the clock — to deliver a breakthrough product to market.”

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