Media Advisory: WFU researchers and students to assemble and install first solar/thermal generator

Wake Forest University researchers have developed one of the first combined solar/thermal energy generators.

This new generation of solar power will get its start on the roof of Hanes Middle School this week. Researchers will work with 6th through 8th graders enrolled in Hanes Middle School’s “Power Up! Summer Camp” to assemble one of the world’s first combined photovoltaic and thermal collection generators.

David Carroll, principle developer and director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, and his team will then place the system on the school’s roof. The campers will make actual measurements to assess system performance and analyze the potential of the system for use in the region.

Carroll said getting young kids at Hanes involved in the project will help the school meet its goal of educating a new generation of scientific innovators.

“This is an exciting way to peak the interest of young people in pursuing a career in science,” he said.

Carroll and the students will be available for interviews Aug. 7, 8 and 9 between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. at Hanes Middle School (2900 Indiana Ave, Winston-Salem, NC 27105). Hanes Magnet School Curriculum Coordinator Scarlett Mooney is available to provide additional information at 336-703-4171 smooney@nullwsfcs.k12.nc.us.

About the Generator: The Hybrid Sterling Energy Generator or HySterE panel can suck the heat of a hot summer’s day and turn it into electricity. “It could transform how we use the sun’s energy,” said Carroll.

Carroll explains that solar technologies today utilize only a fraction of the power in sunlight. He said this is because they are made of silicon, a material that only absorbs visible light or energy from the sun with a wavelength between 400 and 700 nanometers.

Rather than increasing the efficiency or lowering the cost of existing solar cells, Carroll’s team came up with a way to increase the amount of energy from the solar spectrum you can gather.

“The solar spectrum you see with your eyes has a lot of power locked up in it,” he said. “But if you think about the infrared, or heat energy, there is a lot of power locked away there as well. To date, this energy has been wasted.”

Unlike its conventional counterparts, a HySterE panel is able to collect both visible light and thermal energy. It consists of clear tubes of inexpensive plastic filled with a nano-engineered dye and ethylene glycol (radiator fluid). The dye absorbs heat from the environment around it and transfers this to the ethylene glycol, superheating the fluid. This liquid is then fed through a mini-turbine about the size of a Starbucks cup. On the back of each tube, a strip of photovoltaic silicon is placed to gather visible light.

Carroll said in comparison to a 4’ x 6’ Si solar panel that might produce as much as 500W on a roof, a HySterE I panel of the same size can produce 1.2 kW of electrical power. Moreover, power production lasts over a larger part of the day – not just when the sun is high in the sky.

Carroll said this means more electricity per hour over the course of a day. This could in turn dramatically improve the return on investment with a HySterE I system.

To top things off, Carroll said 60 percent of a HySterE panel can be made from recycled materials. “The only thing that is not recycled is the silicon and the generator itself,” he said.

About Wake Forest University:  Wake Forest University combines the best traditions of a small liberal arts college with the resources of a large research university. Founded in 1834, the school is located in Winston-Salem, N.C. The University’s graduate school of arts and sciences, divinity school, and nationally ranked schools of law, medicine and business enrich our intellectual environment. Learn more about Wake Forest University at www.wfu.edu.

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