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Conn Prize winner calls for more investment in renewable energy

by John R. Karman III, communications and marketing last modified Mar 20, 2014 04:41 PM

With the clock ticking on fossil fuels, Swiss chemist Michael Graetzel believes the time is now for further investment in and commercialization of various forms of renewable energy.

Conn Prize winner calls for more investment in renewable energy

Swiss chemist Michael Graetzel, winner of the first Leigh Ann Conn Prize for Renewable Energy, speaks at Rauch Planetarium on March 17, 2014.

Graetzel, professor and director of the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland, gave a public lecture March 17 at the Rauch Planetarium. He was here to receive the University of Louisville’s first $50,000 Leigh Ann Conn Prize for Renewable Energy.

Graetzel earned the award for his discovery of a semi-flexible solar cell that is easier and less costly to produce than silicon-based cells. The “Graetzel cell,” as it is known, is a dye-sensitized cell that merges nanoscience with photo conversion. It has the ability to convert sunlight into electricity using earth-abundant materials. Mass production of the cells began in 2009.

Graetzel’s public talk, attended by a mix of students and professors from UofL’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering and area high schools, focused on his award-winning work. Graetzel cells have been used in solar keyboards and window glass. They also are incorporated into rooftop panels that heat Geneva International Airport and have been used in solar-powered backpacks to power batteries capable of charging a variety of gadgets.

Graetzel told the audience that further commercialization of his work on solar cells has been slowed by a lack of funding and of engineers and companies willing to take a chance on bringing new products to market.

But with a dwindling supply of traditional fuel sources, Graetzel warned that the risk of not further developing renewable energy “is too big not to be taken.”

Graetzel, who received the 2013 Conn Prize medal and award during a March 18 black-tie ceremony and banquet at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel, holds more than 50 patents and has written two books and more than 1,200 publications.

The prize, managed by UofL’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research at the Speed School, is named for the late daughter of Hank and Rebecca Conn, who are center supporters and the prize benefactors. The honor recognizes outstanding renewable energy ideas and achievements with proven global impact.


More information about the Conn Prize can be found at

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