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TU a pioneer in solar-powered nanobatteries

For the past two years, students and faculty have spent hundreds of hours studying the capabilities of nanobatteries with the help of a grant from NASA and the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). In collaboration with faculty at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma, TU investigators specializing in chemistry, physics, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering are setting the standard in solar-powered nanobatteries.

Peter Hawrylak, assistant professor of electrical engineering, is developing advanced circuit models of the system to determine how best to combine the nanorods and nanobatteries into a unified energy storage system. TU Associate Professor of Physics Parameswar Harikumar and OU Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ian Sellers are developing a photovoltaic nanorod for the harvesting of light energy. Advanced models of this nanorod include a fluid form that can be painted onto the surface of a small solar panel. Beneath the panel lies a battery control system of nanowires designed by TU Professor of Chemistry Dale Teeters.

Left to right: Students Bennett Krack, Trokon Johnson, Ashraful Islam and Arthur Win

TU’s current research focuses on how to build the control system, charge the nanobatteries, collect the energy and direct it to separate battery banks. Hawrylak is working with all three components to develop circuit models for optimal performance.

“We’re looking at dividing up the solar panel activity and harvesting the energy in sections for efficiency,” Hawrylak said. “If certain parts are less effective, we hope to move the charge from where it’s best collected to the rest of the nanobattery system.”

Officially known as A Nanostructured Energy Harvesting and Storage System for Space and Terrestrial Applications, the grant’s research combines the functions of a solar panel’s energy-gathering system with its energy storage. Hawrylak said the method will simplify the fabrication of large-scale batteries and introduce new uses for nanobatteries. “Using solar panels to power batteries, we could embed the system into a vehicle, or the integrated circuit design could be built into a computer chip.”