This is one of the coolest stories I’ve seen in awhile. It was shared with me by one of CleanTechnica’s great readers on our Contact page, but I couldn’t get to it for awhile. Luckily, as I started writing on it, I found out that the technology and its 19-year-old inventor just got a $275,000 boost!
Eden Full’s SunSaluter — Summary
Eden Full, a 19-year-old Princeton University mechanical engineering student has developed a non-toxic, cheap, recyclable device made out of metal and bamboo that allows solar panels to follow or track the Sun without the use of an electric motor. This does two things: 1) it boosts the output of the solar panels by about 40% (huge) and 2) it does so using a much cheaper and simpler method than traditional trackers commonly used in commercial projects (her technology costs $10, a lot less than the typical $600 solar tracker).
I love the bit in the video below where she says that she could teach Kenyan children how to construct and fix the device if it breaks. That’s the way to help the world!
SunSaluter Winning Awards Left & Right
Eden and the SunSaluter (being developed by her company, Roseicollis Technologies, now) have won a number of big awards for this ‘simple’ device. As mentioned above, she just won $275,000, in the 2011 Postcode Lottery Green Challenge. She also won $10,000 in the the EcoLiving 2011 Awards a few months ago, and she’s also won a $100,000 fellowship from the Thiel Foundation this year. More on that from Tyler Hamilton of Clean Break:
On May 25, Full was one of 24 students under the age of 20 to win a $100,000 fellowship from the Thiel Foundation, set up by PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor (read: super rich dude) Peter Thiel.
It’s not just a handout, however. To get the money, Full must commit to taking a two-year break from her studies at Princeton so she can dedicate herself full time to developing her product, which she calls the SunSaluter.
Full is taking the plunge. In mid-August she is packing her bags and moving to Silicon Valley, where she’ll be mentored by a network of entrepreneurs and tech experts working with Thiel. She’ll be learning how to develop her product, but also how to build a business and raise money.
She emphasized that the $100,000 award doesn’t necessarily go toward technology development. It covers living expenses, allowing Full to throw herself into her work without worrying about paying bills.
“The money will give me a chance to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes,” she said.
I asked her if she was nervous being parachuted into this high-tech heartland.
“I do feel very intimated, not only by the calibre of the other projects, but because there’s a huge standard to meet and a lot of hype around it,” she continued. “But a little pressure is good. It will make me perform better.”
How the SunSaluter Works
Hamilton does a good job of explaining the technology as well, as much as is possible until Eden receives her patent and can safely reveal more:
The concept is simple, really. Steel expands at a different rate than aluminum when exposed to heat. Full has combined steel and aluminum into bimetallic strips, which are attached to an axel running across the back of a solar panel.
She won’t go into too much detail until her patent on the invention is published, but when the sun hits the strips the resulting heat causes the aluminum part of the strip to expand more than the steel part. This causes bending and twisting of the strips.
Full has figured out a way to configure and control her system so that the bending strips keep her panels, for the most part, directly aimed at the sun.
How the SunSaluter Came About (And Did I Mention that Eden Built a Solar-Powered Car When She Was 9?)
Here’s a little more on where the inspiration for this device came from, via Eden’s Green Challenge page:
I built my first solar-powered car when I was nine years old. I fell in love with the idea of clean technology that was better for our planet. As I grew older, I became frustrated with how solar panels were not optimized to collect their maximum potential. I began building prototypes for different tracking systems and the SunSaluter was born!
My parents instilled a sense of responsibility towards the environment when I was younger and I carried this value with me throughout my life. I had the opportunity to travel to the Canadian Arctic two years ago where I witnessed the depressing lack of sea ice as a result of climate change, which made it hard for animals to find food and land. On a Zodiac boat ride, I had a chance to get within five metres of a polar bear that was so desperately hungry he didn’t even bother to turn away from us. This was an emotional moment for me when I realised that I had a chance to help prevent this problem from getting worse. I would have to help with the reduction of CO2 emissions.
More from Eden
And since she is such an inspiration inventor and do-gooder, here are a few more quotes from Eden. From the same page:
The Green Challenge prize will make all the difference in my work. I will be able to deploy more pilot projects in both emerging and developed markets, and design a subsidized financial model so that people in developing countries would be able to afford the SunSaluter as well. With the SunSaluter, the 65,000-panel solar fields in California could generate 40% more electricity to sell to the grid. This would increase the value of solar energy in the renewable energy market and help to reduce CO2 emissions. A family in rural Kenya could power one additional lightbulb in their hut at night since the SunSaluter is more affordable than a traditional $600 motor. If many panels harness 40% more energy consistently, then 40% more of the community can benefit from the electricity. For emerging markets, this will eliminate the need for kerosene lanterns, encouraging communities to pursue sustainable development.
And from EcoLiving: “When I realized that I could invent a technology for social good, I fell in love with tinkering with something that mattered.”
For more on the technology, Eden’s success, and her company’s goals, check out this submission of hers to the Dell Social Innovation Competition.
Congrats to Eden! And good news for the world. Hope to hear more about this technology and Eden soon. Drop us a line if you run into anything new.
I'm the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular clean energy website in the world, and Planetsave, a leading green and science news site. I've been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and I've been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, bicycling, and wind energy for the past few years. You can also find my work on Scientific American, Reuters, Think Progress, GE's ecomagination site, several sites in the Important Media network, & many other places. To connect on your favorite social network, go to: zacharyshahan.com