Professor talks cheap, green energy

By Emily Cornett

Forty-four football fields of solar panels in Denver and an electric car going from zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds are not environmentally friendly solutions to Amy Prieto, an assistant professor of chemistry at Colorado State University.

In a lecture Friday, with an audience of more than 60 people, Prieto discussed her search for materials to create a green solution for solar energy and lithium ion batteries, research with which UK students will be involved.

“Instead of making the best, we’re trying to make the cheapest,” Prieto said.

The car with quick acceleration, the 2009 Tesla Roadster, has a price tag of $36,000 for replacement batteries alone, she said, but the batteries only last a couple of years, making it unrealistic for people to drive.

Her solution for the combustion engine comes in the form of copper foam, which would replace the anode in traditional batteries.

According to Prieto, there is enough antimony, the element needed to make the copper work as an anode, in the world to power every car in use.

Prieto has researched only products that can be produced without heavily processed or toxic chemicals.

“My personal interest is in the environment,” Prieto said.

The solar panels in Denver pose another challenge that Prieto is trying to crack. The panels spanning the length of 44 football fields only cover 2 percent of Denver International Airport’s needs.

Prieto is researching the possibilities of copper zinc tin sulfate as a more efficient means of collecting solar power.

The efficient use of nanowires is a next big step in both her battery and solar power research.

Talk about these possibilities drew faculty members and students to the lecture.

Beth Hudak, a chemistry doctoral student, liked how Prieto was not looking to make the best, but the most useful materials.

Another chemistry doctoral student, Chang Yao-Jen, was baffled by the Tesla Roadster and the potential to make even better batteries.

“How can a battery generate such a big power?” Yao-Jen said.

Chang and Hudak will work with Prieto through Beth Guiton, an assistant professor of chemistry at UK. Guiton worked with Prieto on imaging some of her current research and invited Prieto to speak at UK.