One of the drawbacks with solar energy is they only collect, on average, 20 percent of available sunlight. To address this problem, University of Missouri engineer Patrick Pinhero, an associate professor in the MU Chemical Engineering Department, is developing a flexible solar sheet that will capture more than 90 percent sunlight. Pinhero notes that energy generated using traditional photovoltaic methods (PV) of solar collection are inefficient and neglects a large amount of available sunlight. His team has developed a thin, moldable sheet of small antennas called nantenna that can harvest heat from industrial processes and convert it into electricity. The idea is to extend this technology to a direct solar facing nantenna device that would, in essence, collect heat and sunlight.
Along with his university research team, Pinhero is also working with Garett Moddel, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Colorado as well as his former team at the Idaho National Laboratory. Together they have developed a way to extract electricity from the collected heat and sunlight using specially designed high-speed electrical circuitry.
“Our overall goal is to collect and utilize as much solar energy as is theoretically possible and bring it to the commercial market in an inexpensive package that is accessible to everyone,” Pinhero said. “If successful, this product will put us orders of magnitudes ahead of the current solar energy technologies we have available to us today.”
While the first phase is refining the nantenna, the second phase features an energy-harvesting device for existing industrial infrastructure, including heat-process factories and solar farms. The research team believes they will have a product that complements conventional PV solar panels within five years. Since the technology is a flexible film, Pinhero believes it can be incorporated into roof shingle products, or be custom-made to power vehicles.
To help take this technology from “lab to roof,” Pinhero is in the process of securing private and public funds and has submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Energy. To learn more about this nantenna, a study on the design and manufacturing process was published in the Journal of Solar Energy Engineering.