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Renewable energy pioneer wins prestigious technology prize

Swiss scientist Michael Graetzel won the 2010 Millennium Technology Prize for his work on inexpensive solar cells for renewable energy projects.

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Swiss professor and renewable energy pioneer Michael Graetzel gestures next to Finnish President Tarja Halonen during the Millennium Technology Prize awarding ceremonies on Wednesday in Helsinki, Finland. Professor Graetzel, Director of the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne was honored for his work on affordable third-generation dye-sensitized solar cells.

Jussi Nukari, Lehtikuva/AP

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Swiss scientist Michael Graetzel won the 2010 Millennium Technology Prize on Wednesday for helping to develop cheap solar cells for renewable energy projects.

The German-born chemist, director of the photonics and interfaces laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne in the Swiss city of the same name — was awarded the €800,000 ($960,000) prize by the Technology Academy of Finland for his innovation, which led to the development of electricity-generating windows and mobile solar panels.

The Finnish academy said finding ways to replace the Earth's diminishing fossil fuel supply was one of mankind's greatest challenges, adding that the sun is "the most obvious energy source."

IN PICTURES: Harnessing the sun's energy

"The constraint of solar energy has traditionally been its price. Graetzel cells provide a more affordable way of harnessing solar energy," said Ainomaija Haarla, president of the academy. "Graetzel's innovation is likely to have an important role in low-cost, large-scale solutions for renewable energy."

The academy described the price-performance ratio of Graetzel's cells as "excellent, adding that they had just made their commercial debut.

"The technology often described as 'artificial photosynthesis' ... is made of low-cost materials and does not need an elaborate apparatus to manufacture," the academy said.

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