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New center to focus on solar energy

sunFederal representatives visited Binghamton University on Oct. 22 to announce $4 million in funding for the University’s Center for Autonomous Solar Power (CASP). The latest addition to the University’s New York State Center of Excellence in Small Scale Systems Integration and Packaging (S3IP), CASP will focus on tapping into the sun’s immense supply of renewable energy and make it easily accessible as a flexible, large-area and low-cost power source.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey said they believe CASP can help to address the national energy crisis as well as lead to the establishment of companies that will create more jobs in upstate New York.

“We are very grateful to Senator Schumer and Congressman Hinchey for their support in securing this funding and for their continuing support of the University,” Binghamton University President Lois B. DeFleur said. “This is an exciting investment in the University and yet another step in the advancement of the Center of Excellence and its research. It is vital that we look at long-term future energy generation from solar power, and Binghamton University is the right place to do just that.”

CASP will address the scientific challenges of reducing the cost of solar power and enhancing energy efficiency. The multidisciplinary center will draw expertise from engineering, computer science, chemistry and physics to focus on areas such as solar conversion efficiency, storage capabilities, solar module stability and power system cost reduction.

CASP will also work with industry to develop new technologies for defense, energy, aerospace, consumer and industrial markets by focusing on solar power sources integrated with new product designs. Potential applications include transportation communication systems, power generation for buildings and devices that will charge cell phone and laptops without the use of batteries.

“A place like this is the hope of the future of the Southern Tier and of America,” said Schumer, who added that he feels that we have a “moral imperative” to advance research on solar energy.Hinchey said he expects to seek additional federal funding for the center in the future. “We need – in the U.S. and frankly around the world – a new industrial revolution,” he said.

Building on the expertise of S3IP, which incorporates the Center for Advanced Microelectronics Manufacturing and the Integrated Electronics Engineering Center, CASP will develop thin film solar modules. Mimicking nature’s own energy-conversion processes, these ultra thin technologies will allow for the design of layered devices that capture all frequencies of the solar spectrum.

Gerald Sonnenfeld, vice president for research, noted that CASP builds on the University’s and the region’s historic strengths. Binghamton, he said, has become a model in terms of building collaborations among government, industry and academia.

“We are committed to the development of unique projects that can improve people’s lives,” Sonnenfeld said.

Using a sustainable model that demands that the individual device will generate much more energy in one year than it takes to manufacture, CASP researchers will be able to develop new and cost-effective applications.

“We all feel the pinch of rising energy costs and, as a society, need to explore alternatives,” said Seshu Desu, dean of the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science and CASP director. “At the Watson School, our faculty and students are working on addressing the greatest challenges of our technology-intensive society and harnessing low-cost alternative energy sources is at the forefront of our priorities.”

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