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NTU unveils new center to develop solar cells and clean energy systems of tomorrow

In the near future, solar cells are expected to be highly efficient, thinner, more flexible, cheaper and easier to manufacture than the silicon solar cells of today. This could pave the way for them to be the most promising renewable energy source of choice globally.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) today announced that it is investing close to $3 million over three years to set up a new research centre that will pioneer the development of such solar cells of the future, as well as the expertise to harness these new clean energy sources effectively and in commercially viable ways. The Centre for Nanostructured Photosystems will also aim to develop new systems to harvest solar energy and, at the same time, encourage the long-term market viability of these innovations.

Professor Michael Graetzel, the Swiss pioneer of 'artificial photosynthesis' and Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Energy Research Institute@ NTU (ERI@N) will play a leading role as the advisor of the new centre that will be based at NTU.

Professor Graetzel is the inventor of the Dye-Sensitised Solar Cell, a device that mimics the ability of plants to capture photons of light and turn them into electricity. Also known as 'Graetzel cells,' they use special dyes to capture the energy in light at different wavelengths, like the chlorophyll of plants. Often described as 'artificial photosynthesis,' the technology is a promising alternative to today's standard silicon photovoltaic cells.

Professor Graetzel was conferred the honorary Degree of Doctor of Engineering (honoris causa) yesterday by NTU. He was awarded the prestigious 2010 Millennium Technology Prize for his cells that provides a more affordable way of harnessing solar energy. A recipient of multiple international research accolades, Professor Graetzel will be looking to further his research at the new Centre for Nanostructured Photosystems. Made of low-cost materials and not needing elaborate apparatus to manufacture, the 'Graetzel cells' represent an exciting breakthrough and show great promise as an inexpensive alternative to costly silicon solar cells.

Speaking at the Workshop on Nanostructured Photosystems and the launch of the new Centre at NTU this morning, NTU President Professor Bertil Andersson said, "Today's official opening of the Centre for Nanostructured Photosystems is a clear testimony of NTU's research priority in the field of sustainable energy.

"We are establishing the Centre for Nanostructured Photosystems at a time when sustainable energy supply and security is fast becoming a major cause for concern for a vast range of stakeholders from governments and international organisations, to businesses and educational institutions. The new Centre will be, literally, "taking a leaf from nature" to produce energy harnessed from the sun. Development of sustainable energy solutions is today a sunrise industry, with solar energy being the most abundant and promising renewable energy source on our planet."

Sustainability is one of the Five Peaks of Excellence that NTU aims to make its mark internationally, as part of its five-year strategic blueprint. The others are: future healthcare, new media, innovation and to be a knowledge hub of the East and West. NTU has established strengths in sustainability research, with large programs in the energy, environment, and water domains.

During the Workshop on Nanostructured Photosystems earlier today, six of the world's top scientists in solar energy from as far afield as Japan, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland converged at NTU's Yunnan Garden campus to share their latest findings in the research and development of the 'Graetzel cells' and advanced technology systems to generate clean fuels and electricity from sunlight.

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, Executive Director of ERI@N and Director of the Centre for Nanostructured Photosystems said, "We expect the centre to lead the fundamental understanding of these complex photosystems and to yield significant technological breakthroughs to make efficient solar cells. Working together with ERI@N, the centre would also make it a priority to engage the industry through collaborations and jointly funded projects."

For a start, the centre will operate jointly between ERI@N, NTU's School of Materials Science & Engineering and School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, as well as leverage inter-disciplinary collaborations with the University's College of Engineering and College of Science.

Clean energy is a dynamic and fast growing industry sector. A study released by the Pew Charitable Trusts in December 2010 showed that private investments in global clean energy projects could reach US$2.3 trillion (S$2.79 trillion) in 10 years' time, with most of the investment taking place in Asia. By 2020, China, India, Japan and South Korea could account for approximately 40% of global clean power project investments.


Contact: Feisal Abdul Rahman
Nanyang Technological University

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