TU wins ARPA-E grant to advance solar energy technology

Thursday, February 06, 2014

TU receives funding to develop transformational hybrid solar energy

The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has announced that The University of Tulsa will receive up to $1.76 million in project funding as part of ARPA-E’s recent Fully Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight (FOCUS) program. The university will work closely with California companies Cogenra Solar and nanoComposix on this project.

TU’s proposal is among 12 ARPA-E projects approved for the development of transformational hybrid solar energy technology that can convert sunlight into electricity for immediate use or store it at low cost for later.

TU’s model will construct a hybrid solar converter that captures non-visible wavelengths of light to heat a fluid containing light-absorbing nanoparticles, undetectable by the naked eye. “The fluid would transmit the part of the solar spectrum most easily converted to electricity to a solar cell and actively cool the solar cells by efficiently absorbing the by-product heat,” says Todd Otanicar, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “This thermal energy captured in the fluid can be stored to provide low-cost on-demand solar power when the sun is not shining.”

Led by faculty in the TU College of Engineering and Natural Sciences, the project represents Oklahoma’s first ever ARPA-E awarded initiative. Members from the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Chemistry and Physics will leverage expertise in solar energy, nanoparticles, and chemistry to develop specific nanoparticles to absorb select components of the solar spectrum. They also will design bench-top prototypes and construct a working full-scale prototype.

Cogenra Solar will lead efforts to test the full-scale concentrator system, which will be based on the breakthrough T14 system that incorporates field-proven active-cooling technology and low concentration optics. Integration of the liquid filter in front of a low-cost photovoltaic (PV) receiver will enable the PV cells to operate at moderate temperatures while delivering extreme heat for storage and on-demand power generation. The resulting revolutionary hybrid solar system will combine the low-cost structure of PV with the storage capabilities of concentrated solar power.

NanoComposix will facilitate the large scale synthesis and high temperature stabilization of the proposed nanoparticles based upon demonstrated expertise in the fabrication and characterization of nanoparticles.

Gail Ellis