October 1, 2022
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UCSB’s two solar powers

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The burning question in energy research is how to harness the power of the sun in a cost-effective way. Nobel laureate and UC Santa Barbara Professor Alan Heeger’s answer — plastic solar cells that can be printed cheaply like photographic film — has drawn interest and more than $100 million from investors.

But other researchers at the university are exploring answers of their own. Chariot Solar, a company backed with technology from a group of UCSB scientists, has plans to roll out plastic solar cells based on smaller molecules than Heeger’s, a feature the group says could make its cells cheaper to manufacture on a large scale.

Looking farther into the future, Eric McFarland, a UCSB professor of chemical engineering, is exploring artificial photosynthesis, a process that would use sunlight to convert a chemical feedstock into storable chemical energy, the way plants do. He’s participating in a $122  million project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

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