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Harnessing the sun, powering the future | ASU News – ASU News Now


May 13, 2022

AMPED science and technology center at ASU is helping to energize the New Economy Initiative

Arizona is on the hunt for high-tech industry, and one of the lures are five science and technology centers being built by Arizona State University.

The centers are a key part of the New Economic Initiative, an ambitious plan conceived by government, industry and civic leaders to bring the state to the forefront of technological innovation.

Historically Arizona’s economy relied on the five Cs — cotton, cattle, citrus, climate and copper — plus growth and tourism.

To prosper, the 21st century needs more. Technology moves quickly, but ASU’s status as a research university means faculty work on the very cutting edge of it.

ASU has already launched two of the science and technology centers, or STCs. One is the MADE (Manufacturing, Automation and Data Engineering) STC; read about it here.

And the other — the AMPED (Advanced Materials, Processes and Energy Devices) STC — is focused on the three key components needed to electrify the entire energy sector, from automotive to the utility grid: photovoltaics (solar), batteries and power electronics.

AMPED is directed by Zach Holman, an associate professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering. The center is located in ASU’s Research Park in Tempe.

Those three components are needed in considerably larger scale than they’re available now, and with much more flexibility and capability. AMPED works on the materials, converting them into devices, then using those systems in products.

Video of New Economy Initiative: Science and Technology Centers: Arizona State University (ASU)

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU News

At the Research Park, the heavy facilities and equipment to work on that is available. The solar fabrication lab is being augmented with new battery fabrication and test facilities and new semiconductor tool sets to boost power electronics research.

Using these labs and tools, researchers will work on things like the switches for charging an electric vehicle (or discharging one) or converting the DC power generated by solar to the AC power that’s used in the grid. How do you generate more power per area for a solar panel? Efficiency is a key cost driver for the cost of solar power (and an important metric by which manufacturers compete against each other).

As Elon Musk famously said, “Batteries suck.” How do you store more energy per battery? Energy isn’t the only issue. How fast can you charge or discharge the battery? Accelerating in an electric car isn’t dependent on how much energy is stored in the batteries.

“How fast can you get the energy out?” Holman said.

That’s a challenge that goes to the level of the materials, how they’re arranged and how they work together.

Batteries are a huge reason renewable energy isn’t what it could be yet. How many batteries would be needed to charge all day and then power the city of Phoenix overnight? How about powering a place that gets very little sun in the winter and charging batteries during the summer?

“Think of the size of the battery needed for one vehicle,” Holman said. “And then you start asking, what would I need to power a city for hours, let alone weeks? And it’s huge.”

Two drawbacks to batteries are energy density and power. How far can your electric …….


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