Sustainable Technology

UB researchers are discovering ways to increase the efficiency of solar panel technology.

portrait of Vladmir Mitin.

Solar Power

Along with with his colleagues from the Department of Electrical Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and military researchers, Vladmir Mitin is examining ways to improve the electrical output of solar cells, increasing the amount of sunlight the cells can convert into electricity. The team has shown that embedding charged quantum dots into photovoltaic cells improves the electrical output by allowing the cells to harvest infrared light and increases the lifetime of photoelectrons. The company Mitin helped create brings this innovation to the marketplace. The technology has the potential to increase solar cell efficiency by up to 45 percent.This allows consumers to save money, while providers can have a smaller solar field that produces more energy.

portrait of Alex Domijan.

Smart Energy

When Alex Domijan arrived at UB last fall, he brought with him a center, a laboratory and part of a $12 million program that promises to go a long way toward providing a major jolt to energy, redevelopment, education and the workforce across the campus and community, as well as nationally.

“The power field is the only field that deals with energy issues comprehensively from generation to transmission and distribution issues,” he says, calling it a “modern, holistic systems approach” that dovetails with the new way of training employees.

His laboratory, called the Power and Energy Applied Research Laboratory (PEARL), will be on the first floor of Bonner Hall. The facility was the first lab in the world to generate three-phase voltages and currents that could be applied to devices under test in an arbitrary manner.

portrait of Adel Sadek.

Green Routing

According to the research of Adel Sadek, a transportation systems expert, and his colleagues from the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, it’s possible for drivers to cut their tailpipe emissions without significantly slowing travel time.

In detailed computer simulations of traffic in the Buffalo Niagara region, their research has found that green routing could reduce overall emissions of carbon monoxide by 27 percent for area drivers, while increasing the length of trips by an average of just 11 percent. In many cases, simple changes yielded great gains. Funneling cars along surface streets instead of freeways helped to limit fuel consumption, for instance. Intelligently targeting travelers was another strategy that worked: Rerouting just one-fifth of drivers—those who would benefit most from a new path—reduced regional emissions by about 20 percent.

“We’re not talking about replacing all vehicles with hybrid cars or transforming to a hydrogen-fuel economy—that would take time to implement," says Sadek, an associate professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering. "But this idea, green routing, we could implement it now."

portrait of Sarbajit Banerjee.

Working Toward ‘Smart’ Windows

UB chemistry professor Sarbajit Banerjee and his research colleagues are working on ways to hasten the creation of "smart" windows—windows that reflect heat from the sun on hot days, but allow heat in during colder weather. Their research could clear the way for more energy efficient windows.

The findings concern a unique class of synthetic chemical compounds that are transparent to infrared light at lower temperatures, but undergo a phase transition to begin reflecting infrared when they heat up past a certain point. UB researchers have managed to manipulate the trigger temperature for vanadium oxide, one such material. The advance is a crucial step toward making the compound useful for such applications as coatings for energy-saving windows.

“Definitely, we are closer than we’ve ever been to being able to incorporate these materials into window coatings and other systems that sense infrared light,” Banerjee says.

Banerjee’s work has caught the attention of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which has contacted him to discuss developing window coatings that could improve the energy efficiency of buildings with heating or air conditioning systems. The technology could be particularly useful in places like Phoenix and Las Vegas that experience extreme summer temperatures.

Besides smart windows, vanadium oxide also could be useful in products including computer chips, night-vision instruments and missile-guidance systems, Banerjee said.