The University of Toledo, which already has a reputation in solar panel research, Friday was approved for a $3.5 million grant that could bolster its help to panel manufacturers and boost its expertise in photovoltaics.
To receive the grant, the university needs to obtain a separate $23 million federal grant. If it gets that money, it will establish a center on campus with new equipment, laboratories, and manufacturing-scale capabilities in thin-film solar panels, Ohio and university officials said.
"I think we have a good chance," said Frank Calzonetti, UT vice president for research and economic development.
"Nothing's guaranteed, and there's going to be competition. We don't know who it is, but there are strong groups from competing states. But I think we have a very compelling proposal."
The center's engineers would take the solar-panel-making research and deter-mine how to make it into a product that can be manufactured and sold. In other words, it would help the research pay off by bringing a usable and affordable product to market.
UT, known nationally for its solar research that has produced national giant First Solar Inc. and upstart manufacturer Xunlight Corp., teamed up with Dow Corning Corp. of Midland, Mich., to submit a proposal for a $46 million grant, which is part of $125 million the U.S. Department of Energy plans to award in mid-November.
The two partners applied for funding through the energy department's Photovoltaics Manufacturing Initiative program, which was announced in April. The program will award money over five years to establish up to three photovoltaics research and development centers nationwide.
If the university and Dow Corning are awarded the $46 million grant, they would split it, with half going to establish a Photovoltaics Manufacturing Initiative Center on UT's campus and the other half establishing a similar center near Midland.
The Ohio Third Frontier Commission, which funds technology projects, Friday announced a $3.5 million grant needed to be eligible for the federal Energy grant.
Adopting the name Solar Valley Research Enterprise, the university and Dow Corning have proposed combining their two areas of solar expertise to establish a sort of mecca of solar product manufacturing.
"We believe that we're well positioned because of the fact that we offer a breadth of knowledge in the areas of both crystalline silicon and thin-film technology," said Rick Stansley, co-director of the university's Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization.
There are different methods of making solar panels; some are hard modules and others are thin film. First Solar and Xunlight both use thin film, but the former uses cadmium telluride in the product and Xunlight uses silicon. UT research specializes in both, and Dow Corning in silicon.
Mr. Stansley said getting the federal grant would be just a first step in establishing a corridor between the two states that would provide expertise to aid solar researchers every step of the way "from policy to postconsumer use."
Said Mr. Calzonetti: "The idea is to make sure that any technology we develop … doesn't end up producing jobs that go to California, Texas, or somewhere else."
Should it get the federal money, UT would build a separate center on campus that would complement the Wright Center and be under its banner.
The new center would teach solar panel start-ups how to scale up manufacturing activity and have training facilities to teach researchers and others how to manufacture solar products.
"It would ensure that this Midwest area is the place you need to come to if you want to be in the core manufacturing area of solar energy," Mr. Calzonetti said. "This would be a big win for the Midwest and Ohio."
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