Houston researchers create unprecedented solar technology, boost efficiency

Two Houstonians have developed a new system to harvest solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, a Kalsi assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston, and his doctoral student, Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technique that could theoretically harvest solar energy to the thermodynamic limit, the absolute maximum rate that sunlight can achieve. is converted into electricity, as described in a September article in Applied Physical Review.

According to a statement from UH, conventional solar thermal photovoltaics (STPV), or engines used to extract electricity from thermal radiation, have an operating efficiency limit of 85.4 percent. Zhao and Ghalekohneh’s system was able to reach a ratio of 93.3%, also known as the Landsberg limit.

To achieve this new rate, the team proposes the use of a unidirectional STPV system, which reduces reverse emissions from STPV to the sun within the middle layer (or side facing the sun) of the STPV.

“Our work highlights the great potential of non-reciprocal thermal photonic components in energy applications. The proposed system provides a new avenue to significantly improve the performance of STPV systems,” Zhao said in a press release. “It may pave the way for the implementation of non-reciprocal systems in actual STPV systems currently used in power plants.”

In addition, the team showed that STPV can also be used with economical thermal energy storage units, allowing solar energy to be generated 24 hours a day.

Houston is at the forefront of solar development. In April, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had approved the conversion of a vacant landfill into the $70 million Sunnyside Solar Farm. It plans to be the largest urban solar farm in the country and will remove about 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year, according to officials.

Bo Zhao, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Kalsi, and his doctoral student, Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, created new architectures that push solar energy collection efficiency to the thermodynamic limit. Photo via uh.edu

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