Once again in 2021, graduate students have been finding was to adjust their research plans and modify their work to accommodate more remote work or hybrid schedules. While navigating this ‘new normal’ has undoubtedly not been easy, this did not affect the caliber of this year’s grant applications. This year saw a high number of applications submitted, giving Foundation’s grant advisors, with help from the Foundation Board members, the daunting task of selecting this year’s grant winners from a large pool of many well deserving applicants.
After another very challenging adjudication process, the Foundation is excited to announce that for the third year in a row, it will be awarding a total of three TLCERF grants in 2021. This year’s worthy awardees are Lia Codrington (University of Victoria), Amandine Drew (University of British Columbia, Okanagan) and Griffin Schwartz (University of Toronto). Everyone at the Tyler Lewis Clean Energy Research Foundation is extremely proud to have these three join the list of past Foundation awardees, as they are not only strong researchers investigating promising clean energy topics, but they also embody the Foundation’s mission beyond their research. An introduction to each award recipient and their research is summarised below.
Lia Codrington – Exploring Grassroots Renewable Energy Transitions University of Victoria (MASc, Civil Engineering)
Lia received a Bachelor’s of Applied Science degree from the University of Toronto, with a specialisation in Infrastructure engineering. Lia is currently the recipient of the prestigious Alexander Graham Bell Graduate Scholarship, an award given by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada. Lia has been involved with several student groups throughout her time at the University of Toronto and University of Victoria, including Engineers Without Borders and Blues Engineering, a group that helps engineering student-athletes. Moreover, Lia is an avid runner and was a member of the UofT varsity cross country team, and is currently a member of the UVic varsity cross country team. Lia’s current research and work at the University of Victoria is dedicated to developing machine learning tools to support clean energy decision making at the community scale. A summary of Lia’s project, in her own words, is described below:
Today’s energy systems are built on large, central generators like nuclear or natural gas plants. However, variable renewable energy (VRE) generators like wind and solar are decentralized in nature because they must be located where those resources are abundant. Building an energy system with high VRE penetration requires a restructuring of the system itself, enabling community-scale actors to get involved and develop their own local generators. Several First Nations communities in Canada are already spearheading the restructuring process, developing renewable energy projects and taking advantage of the environmental, social, and financial benefits these projects can provide.
However, First Nations communities can only fully realize these benefits if they have ownership and control over the project’s development. Achieving ownership can be difficult, though, for communities that do not have resident energy experts. The interactive Exploring Grassroots Renewable Energy Transitions (EGRET) platform hopes to address this barrier by enabling all members of the community to learn about their energy system options and become involved in the development process. With EGRET, users will be able to select and adjust a variety of parameters to configure a theoretical electricity system for their community. Depending on the community’s interests, these parameters could include wind and solar generator capacities, storage capacity, electric vehicle charging, and energy efficient building retrofits. The platform runs the selected configuration through an electricity operations model and presents the user with visualizations of the resulting operational cost, emissions, and hourly generation profiles. Through this exploration, community members can participate in the decision-making process and build community ownership and control over future renewable energy developments.
The accessibility of the EGRET platform comes from its modelling speed and clear visualizations of results. The speed at which new options can be modelled is particularly important as it allows for broader exploration of the design space while maintaining user engagement. Most energy models are computation-based, leading to slow run times. Instead of computations, the model behind EGRET uses machine learning to replicate the results of a traditional energy operations model, running in only a fraction of a second. A test version of this machine learning model is currently in development. I look forward to building and testing a more thorough prototype of the EGRET platform in partnership with a First Nation community in the coming year. I am very grateful for the TLCERF grant because it will help cover travel expenses, allowing me to build a stronger relationship with the partner community and ensure their interests are reflected in the EGRET platform. It will also allow me to dedicate more time to my studies without distraction.
Amandine Drew – Optimization of Back Contacts for Increased Efficiency in Solar Cells
University of British Columbia, Okanagan (MASc, Mechanical Engineering)
Amandine received her Bachelor of Engineering Science in Mechanical Engineering at Western University in 2020, where she completed her undergraduate thesis with the Nanophotonic Energy Materials group, led by Dr. Johlin. She is currently pursuing a Master’s of Applied Science at the University of British Columbia (Okanagan) in the Laboratory for Solar Energy and Fuels, supervised by Dr. Uhl. During her time at Western University, Amandine was co-president of the Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering (CSME) student group and competed on the varsity rowing team. Amandine is the recipient of the Graduate Dean’s Entrance Scholarship and the University Graduate Fellowship. During her spare time, Amandine enjoys backcountry skiing and training for triathlons, having just completed her first half Ironman this past summer. At UBCO, Amandine is currently conducting research in the area of photovoltaic cells and in particular, perovskites solar cells, described by Amandine as follows:
The sun produces 120 000 TW of clean and inexhaustible power available on the earth’s surface (land and water), which is more than all the other renewable energy sources combined. This energy is typically harnessed through the use of silicon based solar cells, which are widely available commercially. However, perovskite solar cells have seen tremendous development in the last decade, and present numerous advantages over crystalline silicon solar cells as they allow for a reduction in material usage which reduces cost and fabrication time, and allows processing on flexible and lightweight substrates which find applications in transport-integrated and building-integrated photovoltaics, wearable electronics and mobile power generating devices. The efficiency of perovskite solar cells has risen from 13% to 25.5% in the last decade alone (crystalline silicon solar cells took 60 years to reach an efficiency of 26.1%). However, there is still room to improve the efficiency of single-junction perovskite solar cells up to the Shockley−Queisser limit of 33.7 %.
My research looks at enhancing the efficiency of perovskite solar cells through the design and optimization of nanostructures on the back contact of the solar cells. The topology of the back contact can be engineered in order to improve the optical properties of the solar cell, and thereby increase their efficiency. The goal is to create an intensification of the electric field in key locations, to minimize the distance of the charges to the back contact as well as to maximize the possibility for the light to get absorbed in the active material, perovskite. I have successfully modeled nanostructures which enhanced the optical properties of the solar cell, however, I am now looking to see how this enhancement translates to the electrical properties of the solar cell.The Tyler Lewis Clean Energy Research Foundation’s grant will allow me to focus my time and energy on this research, and provide a pathway for high efficiency perovskite solar cells at a low cost.
Griffin Schwartz – Inverted Pyramidal Pores in Polycrystalline Silicon Solar Cells
University of Toronto (PhD, Physics)
Griffin received his Bachelors of Science in Physics with First Class Honours from McGill University in 2021 and is now in the Physics PhD program at the University of Toronto, where he is working on the development of the next generation of solar cells. Aside from his research, he is passionate about Physics education and outreach. Throughout his undergraduate degree, he volunteered with PhysicsMatters, McGill University’s Physics outreach program. He worked with elementary school teachers and students, giving and helping develop science lessons to teach students fundamental principles of Physics, such as gravity and density. Outside of school, Griffin likes to compete in bike races and perform stand-up comedy.
Griffin’s current PhD work investigates the structures and design of silicon solar cells to maximise their efficiency. An overview of Griffin’s research is given below in his own words:
Sunlight is an essentially limitless source of energy. The amount of sunlight that hits the Earth in one hour could meet all of humanity’s energy needs for a whole year. In order to meet our crucial emissions targets and mitigate the worst effects of climate change, we need to be able to harness as much of this solar energy as possible. Doing so will require a new generation of solar cells that are affordable, lightweight, and highly efficient. One such type of novel solar cells are based on a material known as a photonic crystal. Photonic crystals are artificial materials sometimes referred to as “the semi-conductor of light”: they consist of a periodic arrangement of dielectric media that allows for unique scattering and wave interference of light. While currently available solar cells exploit the ray properties of light such as diffuse scattering and total internal reflection, photonic crystal-based solar cells fully utilize the wave nature of light. This allows for unique and highly tuneable phenomena that facilitate the strong absorption of light across the entire solar spectrum. These include the existence of “slow light” modes – where the speed of propagation of light in the material is reduced by a factor of thousands – and of parallel-to-interface refraction, where light that hits the solar cell perpendicularly bends a full ninety degrees to propagate parallel to the surface of the sample. These phenomena improve the cell’s absorption by making the light spend more time in the material: the longer a given photon stays in the cell, the more likely it is for an electronic excitation to eventually absorb it. These techniques can improve the absorption by so much that the cells can be made ultra thin while still absorbing more than their predecessors. Photonic crystal solar cells can be thinner than a human hair! This further improves efficiency by improving the rate at which the excited electrons are extracted to the external current, as fewer electrons are lost to heat diffusion in a thinner sample. Photonic crystals have in fact already been used to design a solar cell with world record efficiency. My research will focus on running numerical simulations, under the supervision of Prof. Sajeev John at the University of Toronto, on a Photonic crystal design consisting of inverted pyramidal pores on both the surface and back contact of a poly-crystalline silicon solar cell, which Prof. Shawn-Yu Lin of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY will implement in an experimental test. My project will consist of running exact finite-difference time domain calculations to identify the optimal pore spacing and anti-reflective coating for the proposed design, as numerical simulations allow for the testing of a vast number of different configurations without the financial or time constraints related to the fabrication of physical samples for laboratory testing. From there, the most promising candidates will then be tested in the lab, with the goal of ultimately designing a high efficiency solar cell.
The TLCERF grant will be invaluable for this project: it will allow for a visit to Troy to collaborate with Prof. Lin in person, and to go to a conference in person to present our findings. The money will also allow for me to upgrade my computing setup to allow me to run the simulations more quickly, and to buy out some of my TA duties to give me more time to focus on the project.