Research team develops high-performance hybrid solar energy converter

Research team develops high-performance hybrid solar energy converter

July 23, 2020 0 By Tami Hood
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The researchers from Tulane University were working as a part of a larger group of scientists.

Scientists including researchers from Tulane University have developed a new form of high-performance hybrid solar energy converter. This new design efficiently generates steam and electricity at a lower cost than traditional photovoltaic cells.

The team was working with researchers at the University of San Diego to develop the converter.

The hybrid solar energy research team was led by Tulane associate professor of physics and engineering physics Matthew Escarra, and University of San Diego associate professor of mechanical engineering Daniel Codd. Also involved were San Diego State University, Otherlab, and Boeing-Spectrolab researchers. “We are pleased to have demonstrated high performance field operation of our solar converter and look forward to its ongoing commercial development,” said Escarra.

They were working as a part of a US Department of Energy ARPA-E project which started back in 2014 with $3.3 million. This required several years of research and prototype development at Tulane. The field testing of the prototype was conducted in San Diego. The outcome of the research was published in the Cell Reports Physical Science journal science journal.

The hybrid solar energy converter is being viewed as improving the potential of this renewable power.

“Thermal energy consumption is a huge piece of the global energy economy – much larger than electricity use. There has been a rising interest in solar combined heat and power systems to deliver both electricity and process heat for zero-net-energy and greenhouse-gas-free development,” said Escarra.

This converter uses a strategy that makes it possible to capture the full sunlight spectrum. It also uses high efficiency multi-junction solar cells to generate electricity. Those cells also redirect the sunlight’s infrared rays to a thermal receiver. That converts the infrared light into thermal energy.

From there, thermal energy from the hybrid solar energy converter can be stored until it is needed. It is best used for providing heat for a large number of commercial and industrial uses. Among them can include chemical production, food processing, enhanced oil recovery and water treatment, among others. The researchers said the system’s efficiency rate was Hybrid solar energy - Researchers - Solar Panelsdemonstrated to be 85.1 percent. It delivered 248ºC steam and is projected to have a 3 cent per kilowatt hour system levelized cost.