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Research Highlight: Ramki Kalyanaraman and Gerd Duscher


Ramki Kalyanaraman
Ramki Kalyanaraman
Gerd Duscher
Gerd Duscher



Tickle College of Engineering faculty members Ramki Kalyanaraman and Gerd Duscher have co-founded a Knoxville-based start-up company, SunJoule Materials, to make clothing into an efficient converter of light into energy.

Kalyanaraman is an associate professor with a joint appointment in the Departments of Materials Science & Engineering (MSE) and Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering (CBE), and Duscher is an associate professor in MSE.

They propose a technology to make high efficiency, light-weight, flexible solar fabric based on hollow polymer fibers and inorganic solar cells. Their project is based on the premise that two common features are generally found in every human activity: the presence of light, either from the sun or man-made sources, and the presence of fibers, such as in the clothes we wear.



This technology would not only help individuals be more energy independent, but would enable scaling up of light-energy-harvesting products to carpets, curtains, tents, and even textile-based solar farms. They also envision an immediate impact in applications requiring energy sources far away from convenient locations, such as when rescue workers and the military are deployed in disaster-affected or remote areas.

After obtaining seed funding from the Sustainable Energy and Education Research Center (SEERC) at UT to begin investigations, they are now collaborating to demonstrate a scaled-up version of fiber solar cells. These collaborations involve multiple disciplines within UT, including students from CBE and the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and faculty from CBE and MSE.

These highly efficient, light weight, flexible devices can be inexpensively produced, thanks to the “kitchen-sink” type techniques required to make them. Through SunJoule, they obtained private venture capital funding to patent this idea, which could potentially revolutionize the solar and power generation industries.

Duscher and Kalyanaraman hope to place the United States and UT at the forefront of renewable energy with this promising and exciting new technology.