ASU researchers TEAMUP to advance solar capabilities

Department of Energy supports academic, industry consortium to advance perovskite technology

May 17, 2023

As climate change becomes an increasingly pressing problem worldwide, the race to develop sustainable power-generation technology is ever more crucial. A new consortium of academic and industry partners, Tandems for Efficient and Advanced Modules using Ultrastable Perovskites, or TEAMUP, looks to help mitigate climate change by making a new generation of solar technology commercially viable.

The three-year TEAMUP collaboration, which is planned to start in fall 2023, is supported by $9 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. TEAMUP seeks to maximize the performance and reliability of tandem solar panels for consumer use. Two people wearing white lab coats and gear while working in a lab. Researchers in Arizona State University’s MacroTechnology Works facility examine a solar cell. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

Tandem refers to solar panels that are made from a combination of two or more cells optimized to absorb different sections of the electromagnetic spectrum, or simply put, colors of light.

Halide perovskites are a family of materials that have shown tremendous potential for high performance and low production costs in solar cells. The term “perovskite” comes from the name for the materials’ crystal structure. Perovskites and silicon absorb different colors of sunlight, resulting in a greater combined efficiency than panels made from either material alone.

Ultimately, the consortium hopes to use this emerging technology to put the U.S. at the forefront of solar technology manufacturing. The project aligns with Arizona’s New Economy Initiative, which is positioning the state as a hub for advanced jobs in engineering, technology and advanced manufacturing.

The consortium’s efforts also directly relate to the goals of ASU’s Advanced Materials, Processes, and Energy Devices, or AMPED, Science and Technology Center (STC), which has photovoltaic, or solar, technology as one of its primary research thrusts.

An academic collaboration for solar innovation

Academic and government partners in the consortium include the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University; the University of Colorado Boulder; the University of California, Merced; Northwestern University; and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Portrait of Nick Rolston

Assistant Professor Nick Rolston

ASU’s involvement includes research groups run by Assistant Professor Nick Rolston and Associate Professors Mariana Bertoni and Zachary Holman, all electrical engineering faculty members in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, part of the Fulton Schools.

Work at the University of Colorado Boulder, which leads the academic research efforts of the partnership, is run by Michael McGehee, a professor and James and Catherine Patten Chair in Chemical Engineering. Perovskite materials for solar panels are McGehee’s area of expertise.

“Mike McGehee was almost like a co-advisor to me when I was doing my doctoral degree at Stanford,” Rolston said. “I worked with several of his students in his lab quite frequently.”

Rolston estimates that although the University of Colorado leads the consortium’s academic investigations, ASU will significantly contribute to the research. Each ASU research group will play a different and complementary role: Rolston’s group will examine mechanical macro-level damage limits of the tandem silicon and perovskite panels; Bertoni’s group will focus on conducting X-ray characterization of micro-level structural strains during aging; and Holman’s group will examine how to use the panels’ optoelectronic properties to generate as much electricity as possible.

Delivering entrepreneurial impact

Beyond Silicon, which specializes in tandem solar panel technology and was founded by Holman and ASU electrical engineering Assistant Research Professor Zhengshan Yu, is involved in the industry efforts to make the technology viable for commercial and consumer use. Swift Solar and Tandem PV, both tandem solar technology companies based in the San Francisco Bay area and started by McGehee’s former students, round out the industry consortium members.

Under Holman’s guidance while a graduate student at ASU, Yu worked with McGehee to develop a tandem solar panel that set a power generation efficiency record. Now, as CEO of Beyond Silicon, Yu and the other industry collaborators will focus on making tandem solar technology commercially viable by scaling it up from the small sizes used in labs.

“The U.S. has lost its photovoltaic manufacturing prominence to countries in Asia,” Yu said. “Perovskite and silicon tandem technology is the next opportunity to return the U.S. to a leading position of photovoltaic manufacturing. This technology will make solar technology more affordable to decarbonize the grid and be a key energy generation technology for a sustainable future.”

The AMPED STC aids Yu through its Entrepreneurial Fellowship Program, which provides entrepreneurship funding to private sector projects that stimulate research and development in Arizona.

Yu believes that the TEAMUP public-private partnership is a great boost to help industry commercialize tandem solar technology.

“As scientific challenges still remain to make tandem panels commercially viable, a consortium of industry partners plus academic institutions is the best way to achieve that goal,” he said.

Developing solar solutions 

The ASU research groups will also provide opportunities to students from the undergraduate to doctoral levels to conduct hands-on research. Rolston said students in his group will take part in everything from producing panels to conducting durability testing and analysis.

“The techniques that my research group use basically involve breaking things apart,” Rolston said. “We use tensile testers that can rip apart the materials to understand how much energy that takes and what the weak point is.”

His group is looking to add more students to aid in the work, especially those in undergraduate and master’s degree programs. The work can fulfill project requirements for the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative and Master’s Opportunity for Research in Engineering programs, theses for ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College, master’s degree programs and more.

Bertoni expects that the project’s findings will help to derisk this new technology, attracting businesses to invest in Arizona.

“I think that if we solve some of the reliability issues and show a path to manufacturability and long-term performance, these perovskite technologies will seed a lot of new ideas and businesses,” she said.

Rolston hopes those new businesses could find a home in Arizona, explaining that microelectronics manufacturing infrastructure is similar to that used for solar technology.

“Arizona has such strengths in semiconductors from companies like TSMC and Intel, along with expertise from the workforce,” he said. “I think Arizona would be the perfect place to produce solar panels, which would bring a lot of jobs to the state.”

Students interested in conducting research with Rolston’s group can contact him at

TJ Triolo

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Greetings from Switzerland: ASU alum reflects on ASU experience, global engineering career

May 17, 2023

Arizona State University alum Robert Moody has worked in engineering for more than 30 years, with the last decade in Switzerland. He currently works as a failure analysis engineer at Hitachi Energy

Moody recently saw an article online by Terry Alford, a professor of materials science and engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and reached out to thank him for being a role model as a Black engineer to Moody during his time at ASU. Portrait of ASU alumnus Robert Moody smiling in ski gear in front of a snowy mountain summit. ASU alumnus Robert Moody’s international engineering career has given him the opportunity to explore the high summits of Europe. Here, he is pictured on the Haute Route Skitour, which traverses the mountains from Chamonix, France, to Zermatt, Switzerland. Photo courtesy Robert Moody Download Full Image

Dr. Alford was a huge source of inspiration for me as I worked toward my graduate degree at ASU. Dr. Alford was a professor in one of my initial graduate courses, Material Science in Semiconductor Processing. Having an African American professor absolutely inspired me to work hard and believe that my goal of graduating was possible, Moody said.

“This may sound a bit dramatic, but it gave me a belief that the Divine placed Dr. Alford in my path to internalize that I would succeed with enough dedication to my goal.”

Moody earned his master’s degree in semiconductor manufacturing from the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, where Alford currently serves as the interim director. 

“When I was at ASU more than 20 years ago, I remember only one other African American student in all my courses. Naturally, that can bring about feelings of isolation and doubt as to whether I could successfully meet my goals and pass each of my courses. I’m not sure if (Alford) knows it, but just his presence on campus, as well as his encouragement, were key components in my success. I salute you, Dr. Alford!” 

Moody shares more about his engineering journey and experience at ASU.

Question: What inspired you to become an engineer?

Answer: First, I should provide some background in order to give a good answer. I am an African American and the first person in my family to attend a university.

In many ways, my journey to become an engineer was improbable, considering that my mother was one of 11 children raised in extreme poverty. In fact, she was placed in foster care for many years when my grandmother could not afford to provide for all of her children. I never met my grandfather and only know that he wasn’t present. My grandmother was a domestic worker for most of her adult working life, and as a youngster, she did sharecropping with her siblings.

Even though my family history was difficult, there seemed to be a striver mentality that was passed down to my sister and me. As a youth, I was expected to succeed in academics and obtain employment. Engineering was naturally a major that provided a secure path to my goal of a good, financially stable job.

Q: Why did you come to ASU? How did you select your major?

A: After my military service in the U.S. Army and finishing my undergraduate BSE in electrical engineering degree at California State University, Los Angeles, I was fortunate to start my engineering career with Motorola’s Semiconductor Products Sector, which brought me to Phoenix.

After working for a few years, I wanted to further my education and obtain a master’s degree. ASU had a great program where I could continue to work full time and pursue my degree part time.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the time flexibility support I received at my job from my managers so I could attend courses during work hours. ASU also initiated a program where classes were delivered via video link at the downtown Phoenix campus, which was convenient to avoid the parking situation on the Tempe campus.

Q: Was there a particular “aha!” moment when you knew you were on the right path?

A: I felt like an advanced degree was necessary for job security and to provide an advantage when seeking new opportunities I wanted to pursue. Even though my undergraduate degree was significant, I felt that a graduate degree was necessary for continued success.

Q: How did the Fulton Schools prepare you for your career at Hitachi Energy?

A: The Fulton Schools definitely prepared me for my career as a failure analysis engineer at Hitachi Energy. Here at Hitachi Energy, we primarily fabricate products for industrial high-voltage and electromobility applications. My duties involve analyzing new products, production defects and process development for the factories. The background I obtained from my studies, especially in semiconductor processing, provided me with enhanced insight into potential root causes of failures and ways that various fabrication processes affect materials.

Q: In your professional career, you’ve had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of companies. Do you have any insight to offer students about how to find a field that best suits them?

A: I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunities I’ve received in my career over the years. I feel like the highlight is occurring now, even as I head into my upcoming retirement in a couple of years. I’m lucky that my career in engineering allowed me to live and work in Switzerland for most of the last 10 years. None of this would have happened if I didn’t have an inspirational person like Dr. Alford as a shining example that my career can be limitless. I’ve had such super cool experiences here in Switzerland and Central Europe, including mountaineering and summiting Mont Blanc, completing the hut-to-hut Haute Route Skitour in the Alps, enjoying an opera performance at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy with my wife, strolling on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, and a host of other amazing memories.

I guess I can offer insight to students by stating, “Don’t put limits on your desired career.” At least in my experience, engineering can provide worldwide opportunities.

Q: Any other advice you would give to current Fulton Schools students?

A: I am a pretty humble guy and don’t know if I am qualified to give advice. However, one ideal I stuck to during my studies was to work hard. I wasn’t gifted with a strong scientific background, but I knew if I could work hard enough and put in the hours I would succeed in my courses. This state of mind was one of my personal keys to success.

Hayley Hilborn

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering