Researchers Invent High-Performance Hybrid Solar Energy Converter

Hybrid Solar Energy Converter

The hybrid solar energy converter features a solar module with glowing red cells built at Tulane. Credit: Photo courtesy of Matthew Escarra

Tulane University researchers are part of a team of scientists who have developed a hybrid solar energy converter that generates electricity and steam with high efficiency and low cost.

The work led by Matthew Escarra, associate professor of physics and engineering physics at Tulane, and Daniel Codd, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of San Diego, is the culmination of a U.S. Department of Energy 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.

The research is detailed this month in the science journal Cell Reports Physical Science. Researchers from San Diego State University, Boeing-Spectrolab and Otherlab were also part of the project.

“We are pleased to have demonstrated high performance field operation of our solar converter and look forward to its ongoing commercial development.” — Matthew Escarra, associate professor of physics and engineering physics at Tulane

“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.

The hybrid converter utilizes an approach that more fully captures 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.

The team reports that the system demonstrated 85.1 percent efficiency, delivered steam at up to 248°C, and is projected to have a system levelized cost of 3 cents per kilowatt hour.

With follow-on funding from the Louisiana Board of Regents and Reactwell, a local commercialization partner, the team is continuing to refine the technology and move towards pilot-scale validation.

“We are pleased to have demonstrated high performance field operation of our solar converter,” Escarra said, “and look forward to its ongoing commercial development.”

Reference: “Solar Cogeneration of Electricity with High-Temperature Process Heat” by Daniel S. Codd, Matthew D. Escarra, Brian Riggs, Kazi Islam, Yaping Vera Ji, John Robertson, Christopher Spitler, Jacob Platz, Naman Gupta and Fletcher Miller, 15 July 2020, Cell Reports Physical Science.
DOI: 10.1016/j.xcrp.2020.100135

6 Comments on "Researchers Invent High-Performance Hybrid Solar Energy Converter"

  1. Bill Simpson | July 19, 2020 at 7:22 am | Reply

    WHOA, 85% efficiency! If it pans out like it seems to be heading, it would be the greatest discovery in a hundred years. Such high efficiency, at a low cost, would be a global game changer. It would literally change the world, since solar power at such a low cost would allow abundant, cheap electricity over most of the planet. It would be like perfecting nuclear fusion, only a lot cheaper. You could develop a pollution free hydrogen economy at an affordable cost. It would be up there with the invention of alternating current and the electric motor. Keep your fingers crossed, because the existing fossil fuel based energy system is unsustainable for much longer.

    • Homer Simpson | July 19, 2020 at 8:39 am | Reply

      “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” – 85.1% efficiency is for electricity + heat(the energy required to produce that heat, i guess). Either way this is a HUGE breakthrough.

  2. Suspect most is thermal and not electrical. Note lack of info/comparison re existing solar cells. This is likely a plea for more R&D $ and not likely to mean much.

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  4. Gabriel Lambert | July 20, 2020 at 5:25 am | Reply

    electrical efficiency is 5.4%

    at 304 suns, 1139W steam, 903W hot water, 138W electricity

  5. Sir can u send me the details of hybrid solar system with catalogue n prices of 5,10,25 n 20 kW n hybrid inverter prices separately

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