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US Funding For Solar PV + Agriculture & Small Innovative Solar PV & CSP Projects

This fifth round of US DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office projects involve solar PV plus agriculture and small innovative solar PV and CSP projects.

Continuing a decades-long trend, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has put a few million dollars into further research and development of solar power technologies — $130 million, to be precise.

The goals of the funding are to “reduce the cost of solar, increase U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, and improve the reliability of the nation’s electric grid.”

CleanTechnica-Solar-Panel-Farm-1-scaled watermark

$130 million may sound like a lot on the surface, but in the context of the US Department of Energy budget, it’s tiny. Also, considering that the $130 million gets spread across dozens of projects, the support for each effort is probably not as significant as it seems at first glance.

Though, $130 million is $130 million more than $0 — and a few million dollars here and a few million dollars there can lead to some exciting successes. So, we’re taking a look at the 67 research projects across 30 states that the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office is sending $130 million to.

This fifth round of projects concerns solar PV combined with agriculture as well as small innovative solar PV & CSP projects. Below are DOE summaries of how it intends to help in these areas as well as awardee details from the DOE:

Solar and Agriculture: System Design, Value Frameworks, and Impacts Analysis

“$7 million for four projects that will advance the technologies, research, and practices necessary for farmers, ranchers, and others to co-locate solar and agriculture.” Awardee details from the DOE:

National Center for Appropriate Technology

Project Name: The Agri-Solar Clearinghouse
Location: Butte, MT
DOE Award Amount: $1,600,000
Awardee Cost Share: $430,000
Principal Investigator: Stacie Peterson
Project Summary: This project is establishing an online national resource clearinghouse and technical assistance program for farmers, solar companies, and other stakeholders interested in co-locating solar and agriculture. The clearinghouse will include research findings, data, online tools, and other resources that address barriers to solar-agriculture co-location. The project will also connect participants through an online forum, mailing list, workshops, and farm tours to facilitate peer exchange and mentoring.

Silicon Ranch Corporation

Project Name: Integrated PV System Design and Management Platform for the Co-Optimization of Regenerative Cattle Grazing and PV Solar Generation
Location: Nashville, TN
DOE Award Amount: $1,800,000
Awardee Cost Share: $570,000
Principal Investigator: Michael Baute
Project Summary: This project is testing a novel design for a solar panel tracker and control system to accommodate pasture-based cattle grazing under the solar panels. The project will analyze the impact of the solar panels on cattle, solar equipment, and the grassland ecosystem under the panels. This novel design includes considerations for the time that cattle remain in each paddock and how the tracking system operates when cattle are grazing nearby.

University of Illinois

Project Name: Evaluation of Economic, Ecological, and Performance Impacts of Co-Located Pollinator Plantings at Large-Scale Solar Installations
Location: Chicago, IL
DOE Award Amount: $1,800,000
Awardee Cost Share: $470,000
Principal Investigator: Iris Caldwell
Project Summary: This project is examining the economic, ecological, and performance impacts of pollinator habitats co-located at five large-scale solar photovoltaic facilities (10 MW or larger) in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. The team will develop guidance and decision-making tools for solar-pollinator habitat projects, including a pollinator planting manual, cost-benefit calculator, native seed mix selection tool, and pollinator assessment tool. These tools will address critical stakeholder concerns, including project costs, return on investments, logistical needs, and site- or project-specific constraints.

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Project Name: Impacts of Dual-Use Solar on Crop Productivity and the Agricultural Economy in Massachusetts and Beyond
Location: Amherst, MA
DOE Award Amount: $1,800,000
Awardee Cost Share: $540,000
Principal Investigator: Dwayne Breger
Project Summary: The project will model the economic and social impact of solar-agriculture co-location on farms and surrounding regions. The team will assess crop productivity, soil health, and microclimatic conditions for a range of crops under various solar array designs project at eight operating commercial farms in Massachusetts. The team will also study public acceptance of solar-agriculture co-location and develop practical co-location management guidelines for growers, solar developers, and other relevant stakeholders.

Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS): PV and CSP

“$5 million for 18 projects that advance innovative, novel ideas in PV and CSP that can produce significant results in one year.” Awardee details from the DOE:

PV Projects

Georgia Institute of Technology

Project Name: Development of Organic-Inorganic Hybrid Selective Layers via Vapor Phase Infiltration to Enhance the Durability of Perovskite Solar Cells
Location: Atlanta, GA
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $75,000
Principal Investigator: Juan-Pablo Correa-Baena
Project Summary: A primary mechanism for perovskite solar cell failure is crystallization of small molecule layers in the cell. This project will improve perovskite solar cell stability by embedding metal oxide clusters within these small molecule layers using vapor phase infiltration (VPI). These embedded metal oxide clusters restrict motion of the molecules and impede crystallization. This unique hybrid small molecule-metal oxide cluster layer will increase stability of these perovskite solar cells, a key step towards their commercialization.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Project Name: Machine Learning Accelerates Innovation in Perovskite Manufacturing Scale-Up
Location: Cambridge, MA
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $75,000
Principal Investigator: Tonio Buonassisi
Project Summary: This project is using machine learning to improve the manufacturing scale-up process for perovskite PV technologies. The methodology will speed up the research and development cycle for emerging perovskite PV technologies via the machine-learning-assisted experimental design. The team will develop a framework that combines sequential machine learning and process engineering to maximize process improvements with fewer required experiments. This framework will enable rapid development of scalable deposition process for perovskite PV manufacturing.

Penn State University Park

Project Name: BioPhotovoltaics – New Paradigm Towards High-Efficiency and High-Stability Cells
Location: University Park, PA
DOE Award Amount: $160,000
Awardee Cost Share: $41,000
Principal Investigator: Shashank Priya
Project Summary: This project is investigating novel composites of biological molecules and perovskite photovoltaic (PV) materials for designing biophotovoltaic (BPV) devices. This innovative approach will lead to increased stability and performance over traditional perovskite PV cells. The biomolecule will be able to form chemical bonds with the crystal lattice of the perovskite material, which will assist in the growth of high-quality perovskite crystal films. If successful, the project will lead to efficient (>23%) BPV devices that are stable over 5 years in ambient atmosphere.

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey: New Brunswick/Piscataway Campus

Project Name: Characterization of Performance Degradation Mechanisms in Low-Cost High-Throughput DI-O3 Layer for Passivated Contact Silicon Solar Cells
Location: Piscataway, NJ
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $80,000
Principal Investigator: Ngwe Zin
Project Summary: This project is characterizing the performance of silicon photovoltaic cells with a novel deionized, ozonated (DI-O3) layer under the typical aluminum oxide (AlOx) layer. DI-O3 acts as an effective passivation layer, allowing charge carriers to move through the cell more easily and improving cell efficiency compared to AlOx alone. The team will characterize the DI-O3 layer in silicon solar cells and monitor cell performance degradation DI-O3 could become a widely used layer not only in silicon solar cells but also in thin film solar cells, because this layer can be deposited using a low cost, high-throughput manufacturing process.

University of Alabama

Project Name: A New Low-Temperature Approach for Efficient and Low-Cost Group V Doping in CdTe Thin Film Solar Cells
Location: Tuscaloosa, AL
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $75,000
Principal Investigator: Feng Yan
Project Summary: This project is developing a new method to improve the performance of cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cells by incorporating group V elements as dopants to modify its electrical properties. The novel low-temperature method will introduce the group V dopants separately from the main CdTe deposition process, which lowers cost and gives greater control over the distribution of the dopants in the CdTe film. If successful, the method will improve efficiency and decrease cost of commercial CdTe modules.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Project Name: Power Electronics-Based Self-Monitoring and Diagnosing for Photovoltaic Systems
Location: Blacksburg, VA
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $75,000
Principal Investigator: Bo Wen
Project Summary: This project is developing a self-monitoring and diagnosing technology for photovoltaic (PV) plants that is based on the power electronics they already use. This technology will enable the power electronics in a PV system, such as power optimizers and inverters, to actively test the system, measure its response to these tests, and detect any changes in the PV systems components to continuously assess their health and reliability. This project will reduce system hardware and installation costs by self-monitoring and diagnosing issues in PV systems.

Washington State University

Project Name: Developing CdTe Homojunctions Applying High-Throughput Deposition
Location: Pullman, WA
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $75,000
Principal Investigator: John McCloy
Project Summary: This project is developing new methods to achieve simultaneously high charge carrier density and lifetime in cadmium telluride (CdTe) and cadmium selenium telluride (CdSeTe) photovoltaic (PV) materials. Reducing defects at the p-n junction – the interface between positively charged (p-type) and negatively charged (n-type) semiconductor material – in CdTe and CdSeTe photovoltaic PV cells materials can significantly improve cell performance. This project will use a technique called fast close-space sublimation epitaxy, which can directly deposit n-type CdTe or CdSeTe onto p-type CdTe or CdSeTe films, which will yield significantly fewer defects at the p-n junction than existing methods.

CSP Projects

Boise State University

Project Name: Enabling High Heat Transfer Heat Exchangers through Binary Particle Size Distributions
Location: Boise, ID
DOE Award Amount: $260,000
Awardee Cost Share: $66,000
Principal Investigator: Todd Otanicar
Project Summary: This team will investigate a novel strategy to mix two different particle sizes with the aim of significantly increasing the thermal conductivity in heat exchangers that use packed bed of particles. These binary particle mixtures can be realized for little to no additional cost as they only require mixing of two unique particle sizes. This project will investigate how binary particle size distribution affects bulk effective thermal conductivity through high temperature characterization of the particles mixtures.  The team will also analyze changes in thermal resistance on the wall of the heat exchanger using modulated photothermal radiometry. If successful, the project will culminate in a demonstration of the heat exchanger performance improvement using Sandia National Laboratory’s particle-to-sCO2 subscale demonstration heat exchanger.

Electric Power Research Institute

Project Name: Innovative Method for Welding in Generation 3 CSP to Enable Reliable Manufacturing of Solar Receivers to Withstand Daily Cycling at Temperatures Above 700°C
Location: Knoxville, TN
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $75,000
Principal Investigator: John Shingledecker
Project Summary: This project seeks to rapidly develop an innovative method to improve material, welding, and design specification guidance for Inconel® Alloy 740H® to avoid stress relaxation cracking in Generation 3 concentrating solar-thermal power receivers. Inconel 740H is a newly-developed, high-performance superalloy that has the strength at high temperatures required for Gen3 CSP applications, but does not have well-developed manufacturing and fabrication specifications. The work done by this team will accelerate the ability of plant designers to use this promising alloy.

Mississippi State University

Project Name: Enhancing Particle-to-sCO2 Heat Exchanger Effectiveness Through Novel High-Porosity Metallic Foams
Location: Mississippi State, MS
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $75,000
Principal Investigator: Prashant Singh
Project Summary: This project team aims to increase the effectiveness of particle-to­–supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) heat exchangers by packing the particle-side channels with high-porosity cellular structures. The goal is to increase the interstitial heat-transfer coefficient between moving particles and metallic fibers, and the effective thermal conductivity of particle channel. The approach includes metal additive manufacturing of small length-scale fibers with complex three-dimensional interconnections. The team will use Sandia National Laboratories’ sCO2-particle heat exchanger model design and flow loop to optimize, test, and eventually scale the technologies.

Montana State University

Project Name: Efficient Thermal Energy Storage with Radial Flow in Packed Beds
Location: Bozeman, MT
DOE Award Amount: $180,000
Awardee Cost Share: $46,000
Principal Investigator: Ryan Anderson
Project Summary: The efficiency of packed-bed thermal energy storage systems will be significantly improved by flowing gas through the bed radially instead of axially, which is the more common method. Traditional axial flow methods cause heat to disperse, lowering system efficiency. Radial flow overcomes this limitation. The team will design, fabricate, test, and model several radial flow designs for charging and discharging in a lab-scale facility. The project will determine if this approach can increase exergetic efficiency and reduce pressure drop in concentrating solar-thermal power systems.

Solar Dynamics

Project Name: Optimization of Parabolic Trough Operations & Maintenance (OPTOM)
Location: Broomfield, CO
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $75,000
Principal Investigator: Henry Price
Project Summary: This project will develop a suite of tools to help optimize the operation and maintenance (O&M) of concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) solar fields. The backbone of the system is a cloud-based data platform that will allow the tools to share information. A custom computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) enables tracking of corrective, preventive, and predictive maintenance for collectors, heliostats, and heliostat components. The system will tie in with drone-based solar field monitoring and machine learning to automate the identification of component issues. The system will integrate data analytics to help optimize O&M decisions and include a reporting capability so that data can be synthesized and summarized to optimize O&M resources.

Tietronix Software

Project Name: Development of a Tracking Correction Algorithm for a Commercial-Scale Heliostat Field by Using the State-of-the-Art Non-Intrusive Optical Measurement Tool
Location: Houston, TX
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $75,000
Principal Investigator: Michel Izygon
Project Summary: Optical degradation of solar reflectors causes drastic efficiency losses in concentrating solar-thermal power tower plants, but there is no reliable or efficient way to correct it at the utility scale. This project team will conduct tests at Ivanpah power plant units using the non-intrusive optical measurement method and collect data with a drone to measure slope, canting, and tracking errors of heliostats at varying elevation angles and temperatures. The team will then develop software that provides full-field optical correction protocols and a tracking correlation algorithm so plant operators can optimize heliostat performance year-round.

University of Central Florida

Project Name: Enabling Robust Compressor Operation under Various sCO2 Conditions at Compressor Inlet
Location: Orlando, FL
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $77,000
Principal Investigator: Jayanta Kapat
Project Summary: This project team will study how supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) flows in a compressor cascade in a concentrating solar-thermal power system. The main compressor is a key component for any sCO2 power cycle, but rapid variations of properties near the critical temperature and pressure and the proximity of compression conditions to the phase change between supercritical and liquid fluids make the compressor susceptible to unexpected performance or damage. This project team will develop a new design methodology for the compressor’s leading-edge suction surface so that the compressor can work well over a range of ambient conditions, without problems caused by condensation. This effort will identify and quantify condensation at the compressor’s leading edge, and characterize detailed sCO2 flows within the compressor.

University of Michigan

Project Name: High-Temperature Linear Receiver Enabled by Multicomponent Aerogels
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $75,000
Principal Investigator: Andrej Lenert
Project Summary: This project team will create a linear solar receiver that generates high temperatures (700° Celsius) at a low solar concentration ratio compatible with single-axis tracking, with a collection efficiency exceeding 64%. The receiver consists of a non-evacuated enclosure housing Pyromark-coated absorber tubes. An aerogel transmits sunlight to the tubes while blocking outgoing thermal radiation to enable high performance. The team will co-optimize the design of the receiver enclosure and aerogel to maximize collection efficiency, scale the aerogel from one inch to about six inches, and experimentally measure receiver heat loss at 700ºC.

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Project Name: 3-D Printing of Solar Absorber Tube with Internal/External Structures for Heat Transfer Enhancement and Temperature Leveling using Additive Manufacturing Technology
Location: Brownsville, TX
DOE Award Amount: $240,000
Awardee Cost Share: $61,000
Principal Investigator: Ben Xu
Project Summary: This project team plans to prevent heat damage in solar absorber tubes used in high-temperature concentrating solar-thermal power systems. The team will 3-D-print the absorber tube with its internal structures (fins) and external surface textures while optimizing fin shapes and surface patterns. These improvements could triple heat-transfer performance and prevent pressure loss. The goal is to double the lifespan of absorber tubes compared with conventional systems and decrease the manufacturing, operations, and maintenance costs by 50%.

Utah State University

Project Name: Modular Design of High-Temperature and -Pressure Heat Exchangers Using 3-D Printing
Location: Logan, UT
DOE Award Amount: $240,000
Awardee Cost Share: $63,000
Principal Investigator: Hailei Wang
Project Summary: This project team will 3-D-print functionally graded material, which is a composite that changes along with its size, and use the metal powder-bed fusion (PBF) additive-manufacturing process to make low-cost, high-performance nickel-alloy heat exchangers. The high- and low-temperature modules consist of two materials, which the mid-temperature module will bond. To address challenges associated with joining dissimilar materials and achieve high performance, the team plans to print the low-temperature module using PBF, deposit the functionally graded mid-temperature module using direct energy deposition (DED), and finish the high-temperature module using DED.

Vanderbilt University

Project Name: Development of Advanced Diagnostic Tools, Models, and Technoeconomic Analyses for High-Heat-Transfer Coefficient Particle Heat Exchangers
Location: Nashville, TN
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Awardee Cost Share: $75,000
Principal Investigator: Kelsey Hatzell
Project Summary: In next-general concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) systems, moving packed-bed heat exchangers are promising due to their relatively simple design and operation, especially relative to fluidized heat exchanger designs, which require costly fluidization infrastructure. Parallel plates in the heat exchanger enable a consistent flow of particles, but their design makes it difficult to achieve high-heat-transfer coefficients. Operating conditions, channel design, and particle selection require advanced designs, diagnostics, modeling, and technoeconomic analyses. This project will develop advanced diagnostic and metrology techniques to help develop advanced heat exchanger designs for Generation 3 CSP systems.

Other articles in this series:

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