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EPA Grantee Brings Solar Power Know-how to White House

EPA STAR Fellow Alum Joins Office of Science and Technology Policy

Cyrus Wadia, Ph.D

Cyrus Wadia, Ph.D. is one of hundreds of EPA STAR Fellows whose outstanding talent and personal missions are making a difference in our world.

Wadia is on a mission to provide affordable solar-generated electricity to seven billion people. His quest has brought him from the bench in Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the University of California-Berkeley to Washington, DC, where he is a senior policy analyst in renewable energy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

For Wadia, and others working to make solar energy a significant source of the world’s electricity, the operative word is “affordable.” Today, the cells that capture sun energy are made from silicon, an abundant resource but one that is expensive to manufacture into solar cells. Manufacturing costs inhibit the large-scale production of cells that will be needed to provide clean electricity to more people. Newer technologies that use less expensive materials, such as cadmium telluride, are made of elements either too rare or too toxic for large scale production and demand.

A significant challenge to increasing solar-powered electricity boils down to how to produce it safely and inexpensively on a huge scale—measured in terawatts rather than megawatts.

 “Our ability to solve big problems with technology won’t be limited necessarily by our imagination but rather by resources,” said Wadia last September at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he received a Technology Review 2009 Young Innovator Award.  He received the award in recognition of his innovation in solar photovoltaics that he researched at the University of California at Berkeley as a fellow in EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship program.

While a doctoral student, Wadia broke down his research into two parts.  For the first part, he analyzed several materials for their properties as well as their cost-effective potential.  Two compounds emerged as promising candidates for further testing, copper sulfide and iron sulfide, (also knows as “fool’s gold”).  In the second phase of the research, he experimented with new material engineering to synthesize pure, more stable nanocrystals of the compounds that were then made into solar cells.

“We were successful at demonstrating the first working solar cell made of those materials. So I view that as a foundation to build on,” says Wadia.

To date, the research has produced three peer-reviewed articles and two provisional patents.

Wadia finished his Ph.D. and moved into two new positions, guest scientist at LBNL and co-director of the Clean Tech to Market program at UC-Berkley’s Haas Energy Institute.  But then the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy called.  Wadia was asked to serve a one-year tour supporting President Obama's mission of making solar energy economically viable on a global scale. His role will be to carry out a broad range of advisory tasks, cross-agency coordination, and program management activities toward this goal.

Since 1995, the STAR Fellowship program has encouraged promising students to obtain advanced degrees and pursue careers in an environmental field. Since its inception, the program has supported approximately 1,300 fellows and has proved to be beneficial to both the public and private sectors by providing a steady stream of well-trained environmental specialists to meet society’s current environmental challenges and address future green-related issues.

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