USD Research Week Powered by the Sun

A prototype solar converter could someday generate electricity and steam from concentrated sunlight but it already shows the powerful collaboration between faculty and students at USD.

Part of this year’s Research Week demonstrations, the prototype hybrid solar converter could someday provide clean energy to both industrial and commercial users in the West along with microgrid installations in the developing world.

Perched atop USD’s Loma Hall, the converter is designed to “generate electricity from high efficiency, semi-transparent multi-junction solar cells that also redirect infrared rays of sunlight to a receiver, converting those rays to thermal energy,” explained USD Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering Associate Professor Daniel Codd. “Combined heat and power systems like ours will be a must to help the United States and the world achieve high renewable generation capacity while reducing greenhouse emissions.”

A team of Shiley-Marcos recent alumni and students are working on the project that is funded by a $3.3 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

Jake Platz, who finished his mechanical engineering degree in December, said joining the research team was “the best decision I made while studying at USD. “No longer was I looking at problems in a textbook, but rather looking at them physically in front of me.”

Unlike other concentrating solar power thermal plants, the converter’s system size is small so prototyping it at full scale would be easier to finance than a non-modular system requiring a billion dollars and acres of land to construct.

Last month, the USD engineering team presented the design at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) ninth annual Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C. The project also has been accepted into Caltech's FLOW funding program helping student and newly graduated scientists and engineers start cleantech companies and gain practical entrepreneurship skills.

Other members of the USD team include recent graduates Alex Benson and Chris Spitler and current student Hayden Spencer.

While the converter is being tested at USD, Tulane University is leading the project and other partners include San Diego State University, Boeing-Spectrolab and Otherlab.

-- Liz Harman

Video by Andreas Matthews '18, Digital Communications and Institutional Marketing intern.


Liz Harman