U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative Awards Boston University in Partnership with Sandia National Laboratories $1.15 million
By Rebecca Jahnke (COM ’17) and Bhumika Salwan (Questrom ’16)
Boston University has been awarded $1.15 million from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to advance self-cleaning solar collector technology and bring the new application to solar fields across the country. With partner Sandia National Laboratories, BU aims to improve high efficiency operations of large solar plants in semi-arid and desert lands. Industrial partners of BU include Corning Inc., Eastman Kodak, Industrial Technology Research Institute (Taiwan) and Geodrill (Chile).
When solar mirrors are first placed in fields, they have very high efficiency rates. However, when dust accumulates on the surface of these solar collectors, their efficiency decreases – the dust obstructs sunlight, thus reducing the amount of energy a solar plant can produce and, in turn, the revenue the plant can generate.
Students and faculty from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and Questrom School of Business are developing a transparent electrodynamic screen (EDS) film technology that can retrofit solar collectors with a transparent film and protect them from dust. Leading the graduate students are ECE research professor of electrical and computer engineering and materials science and engineering Malay Mazumder, ECE professor of electrical and computer engineering and materials science & engineering, Mark Horenstein and Questrom associate professor of operations and technology management Nitin Joglekar. A team of four graduate and five undergrad students are working on this project at BU.
The team’s developments are especially important given that, in the United States, solar plants are most commonly located in southwestern states with dry and semi-dry climates that have a high dust deposition rate and little rain. Until now, the most common solution has been to clean solar collectors by deluge spray, washing with water and detergent. Under this process, cleaning a 300 MW plant in the southwest would require more than one million gallons of water and cost upwards of $1 million dollars every year in an area already subject to drought. By advancing solar mirrors’ self-cleaning abilities, solar plants could significantly lower their costs.
Through the EDS film technology, voltage pulses would activate the EDS film and allow the electric field to charge dust particles on its surface. Electrodynamic traveling wave motion created by the pulsed phase voltages would then remove the particles. The intent is for the EDS film to activate the film as frequently as needed without requiring water, thus allowing the solar devices to maintain maximum efficiency. By keeping panels clean, heightening operational efficiency and conserving water, the EDS film would have the double effect of driving down solar electricity’s cost and conserving natural resources.
The SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort that supports innovation by private companies, universities and national laboratories seeking to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of the decade.