Oregon BEST Brokers $1.3M Investment in Solar Energy Research

The Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center (Oregon BEST) today announced a $1.34 million investment in solar energy research at two Oregon universities, boosting the state’s reputation as the North American leader in solar energy manufacturing.

The investment at the University of Oregon and at Oregon State University expands the Oregon BEST network of shared laboratories and equipment that serve researchers across the Oregon University System (OUS) and offers Oregon’s solar energy industry access to advanced research tools, faculty expertise and a workforce trained in solar energy research and manufacturing.

Leveraging Oregon’s leadership position as the center of solar energy manufacturing in North America, officials say the investment will also help recruit solar energy companies to in Oregon, continuing to create new jobs.

“Solar energy companies considering locating here in Oregon need access to highly specialized research equipment, knowledgeable research experts and a workforce skilled and educated about solar energy,” said David Kenney, president and executive director of Oregon BEST. “Oregon has all of this and more distributed among our research universities, and Oregon BEST is proud to be helping build this multi-institutional research network that ultimately benefits people all over the state.”

Last October, SolarWorld USA opened North America’s largest solar manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Ore., and a growing list of solar energy companies have a presence in the state. A combination of business tax credits and access to university research facilities is helping lure these businesses to Oregon.

Gordon Brinser, vice president of operations at the SolarWorld facility in Hillsboro, said he welcomes the investment in university research and development labs focused on solar energy.

“This is very good news for SolarWorld and for other Oregon firms engaged in the solar energy sector,” Brinser said. “By working together to grow a network of solar research facilities accessible to both industry and academia, Oregon’s universities have the opportunity to become much more than the sum of their parts, and this helps position Oregon for more economic development around solar energy.”

Oregon BEST used a portion of its public funding to align additional investment from OUS, the OSU College of Engineering and the OSU Research Office. The $1.3 million investment expands the Oregon BEST shared laboratory network by building on a $1.6 million investment in green building research facilities at OSU and PSU that Oregon BEST brokered and announced earlier this month.

The UO portion of the $1.3 million solar research investment is $768,000, including $350,000 from Oregon BEST and $418,000 from OUS. It establishes the Photovoltaics Laboratory of the Oregon Support Network for Research and Innovation in Solar Energy (Oregon SuNRISE), an Oregon BEST network of shared facilities and expertise serving OUS and industry clients.

Mark Lonergan, a professor of chemistry at the UO and director of Oregon SuNRISE, is collaborating on the network of facilities with fellow UO professor David Cohen, UO senior research associate Frank Vignola and with OSU professors Douglas Keszler, Janet Tate and John Wager.

“The goals of Oregon SuNRISE are fourfold,” Lonergan said. “We provide vital infrastructure for photovoltaics research and development, serve as a nexus for research collaboration, stimulate commercialization of state-of-the-art photovoltaics, and enhance the education of future scientists and engineers who will work in the PV field.”

Oregon SuNRISE includes a solar internship program at the UO that places master’s degree candidates with Oregon solar companies as part of their graduate work. It also includes the UO Solar Radiation Monitoring Laboratory, directed by Vignola, which has been monitoring and collecting solar data for more than 30 years.

“This investment by Oregon BEST and OUS not only helps develop and test new PV technologies and spin out new solar energy companies, it also helps existing Oregon companies maintain a competitive edge in the fast-growing solar industry,” Lonergan said. “These companies are locating here in Oregon because we have the university research capability and state-of-the-art shared facilities they need to succeed, and they can hire workers trained in PV technologies.”

At OSU, the total investment is $572,000, including $232,000 from Oregon BEST, $290,000 from the OSU College of Engineering, and $50,000 from the OSU Research Office. It establishes the Oregon Process Innovation Center (OPIC) for Sustainable Solar Cell Manufacturing, an Oregon BEST facility where researchers focus on improving current solar cell manufacturing processes to reduce costs and on developing novel manufacturing technologies for next-generation solar cells. OPIC is affiliated with the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute, a partnership between OSU and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

One project already underway at the new facility includes a team of researchers from OSU, PNNL, CH2M HILL and Voxtel that is working on a project funded by the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

“What we’re doing here is quite unique,” said OSU chemical engineering professor Chih-hung Chang, who is leading a collaborative team of researchers that is using microchannel technology to more efficiently synthesize and deposit functional thin films and nanomaterials for solar cells, a process that can dramatically reduce waste affiliated with current deposition processes.

Chang and his research team (which includes Dan Palo, Shane Addleman, Brian Paul, Vincent Remcho, Milo Koretsky, Alex Yokochi, Goran Jovanovic and Greg Rorrer) are currently working with a growing list of companies, including Peak Sun Silicon, Sharp Labs and others.

“The Oregon BEST investment will benefit researchers in the PV industry, PNNL and faculty from OSU, UO, PSU and the Oregon Institute of Technology, all of whom will have access to our shared equipment and lab facilities,” Chang said.

Kenney said that distributing the $1.34 million investment across more than one university enables Oregon to pool and leverage research expertise and equipment, positioning faculty teams to be more competitive nationally when seeking research funding from federal and private sources.

The Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) pioneered the distributed, shared research network model several years ago, and has demonstrated significant success in leveraging a relatively small investment into large-scale funding from a variety of federal sources.

“When we team our universities, collaborate with industry, and invest public funding strategically, we maximize the impact of research and provide critical support and value to Oregon’s growing solar industry,” Kenney said.

About Oregon BESThttp://oregonbest.org

The Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center (Oregon BEST) brings together Oregon’s significant R&D strengths in the key emerging areas of renewable energy and green building products and services, with the goal of increasing research and accelerating public/private partnerships to transform that research into on-the-ground business opportunities and Oregon jobs. Oregon BEST partners include the Oregon Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, Portland State University, the University of Oregon, as well as numerous private businesses, government agencies and non-governmental organizations. 

Media Contact: Gregg Kleiner, 541-740-9654
Source: David Kenney, 503-725-9849; Mark Lonergan, 541-346-4748; Chi-hung Chang, 541-737-8548