Feb 222011
Authors: Jason Pohl

CSU chemistry professor Amy Prieto and her team of student researchers have recently made a discovery that could revolutionize the future of how we power the world.

“We’re trying to make cheaper solar cells from compounds that can be found in nature,” Prieto said.

This new advancement uses particles of copper selenide that, when exposed to air, react in such a way that could make solar panels and other power-related devices including cars much less expensive to produce and maintain.

Prieto explained that these nanoparticles have incredible potential because most known surface reactions go unnoticed due to the “bulk” materials commonly used today, including silicon.

“They (the reactions) are pretty dramatic in a nanoparticle,” Prieto said in a press release.

The findings come after nearly two years of research and earned Prieto and her team a front-page nod in the Feb. 9 edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The recent findings, however, are currently too unstable to be used in a commercial manner.

But there is hope.

In this age of growing renewable energy, Prieto remains optimistic, saying a lot will change in the next two years.

“This is opening the door for new advancements,” Prieto said. “This discovery will hopefully help other people make advances that will one day result in affordable solar power and even a better electric car.”

Prieto is no newcomer to the CSU community. She moved here in 2005 and has since established herself among numerous groups in Fort Collins.

“It’s great being able to work with everyone, ranging from undergrads to post-docs in the community,” she said. “Fort Collins is unlike most other areas because the resources and interests all come together.”

She became active in CSU’s Clean-Energy Supercluster and went on to co-found Cenergy’s first startup company, Prieto Battery.

Cenergy provides a bridge that links scientists and business developers in an effort to accelerate the process of “getting renewable energy research to the marketplace,” according to its website.

Prieto Battery was founded with the goal of making electric cars affordable and more reliable for a new market by using advances in nanotechnology and lithium-ion technology. This would make charges last longer and be more reliable.

“CSU’s superclusters provide a great way to help get people interested,” Prieto said.

Prieto cites funding difficulties as the greatest obstacle to completing these studies. However, she remains confident that Fort Collins will see an even greater rise in the amount of renewable energy jobs as the result of new scientific advances.

Staff writer Jason Pohl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

More about the scientists

  • The scientists: CSU chemistry professor Amy Prieto and a team of student researchers
  • What are they doing?: Using particles of copper selenide that, when exposed to air, react in a way that could lessen the production price of solar panels and power-related devices that include cars.
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