A Tulane University-led team of scientists have developed a new high-performing hybrid solar energy converter.
Capable of generating electricity and steam with high efficiency and low cost, the new converter is the outcome of a team effort involving scientists from the Tulane University, San Diego State University (SDSU), Boeing-Spectrolab and Otherlab.
The work was led by Tulane associate professor Matthew Escarra, and SDSU associate professor Daniel Codd.
It is the culmination of an ARPA-E project that began in 2014 with $3.3 million in funding and involved years of prototype development at Tulane and field testing in San Diego.
“Thermal energy consumption is a huge piece of the global energy economy – much larger than electricity use,” notes Escarra.
“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.”
“We are pleased to have demonstrated high performance field operation of our solar converter, and look forward to its ongoing commercial development.”
According to the scientists, the new hybrid converter utilizes an approach that’s more fully capable of capturing the whole spectrum of sunlight.
It generates electricity from high efficiency multi-junction solar cells that also redirect infrared rays of sunlight to a thermal receiver, which converts those rays to thermal energy.
The thermal energy can be stored until needed and used to provide heat for a wide range of commercial and industrial uses, such as food processing, chemical production, water treatment, or enhanced oil recovery.
According to Escarra and Codd, the system has demonstrated 85.1% efficiency, delivered steam at up to 248°C, and is projected to have a system levelized cost of 3 cents per kilowatt hour.
The team is currently working on refining the technology with an eye towards pilot-scale validation. They are being funded by the Louisiana Board of Regents and Reactwell, a local commercialization partner.
Image and content: Matthew Escarra/Tulane University