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UNM Hosts American Solar Energy Society National Conference: UNM Newsroom

The University of New Mexico will be the site of the American Solar Energy Society’s (ASES) 51st Annual National Solar Conference, to be held June 21-24 on the UNM campus and online.

The conference, titled “SOLAR 2022: Energy Transition with Economic Justice,” will offer the option to attend most sessions online or in person at the Student Union Building (SUB).

The conference is co-hosted by the New Mexico Solar Energy Association (a local branch of ASES), which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The UNM School of Engineering is one of the conference sponsors.

The conference will begin with an opening reception on June 21 with renowned researcher Noam Chomsky. Then, on July 22, several New Mexico elected officials are featured in a segment titled “The Role of Governments in Renewable Energy Transformation,” including Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller will speak at a dinner for NMSEA’s 50th anniversary, and leaders from the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will participate June 23 in “Ensuring fair and equitable transformation”. On June 24, speakers include UNM Regent Sandra Begay, an alumnus of the School of Engineering, who is one of the key technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories.

A full schedule of events and registration information is available on the ASES website.

Alongside the conference, the Solar Fiesta car and electric vehicle (EV) show will also be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 24, hosted by NMSEA.

Solar Fiesta will feature booths, information, exhibits and demonstrations on Cornell Mall. Attendees can learn about solar power, EV chargers, passive solar power, tax credits and more.

Among those expected to participate are the UNM Solar Splash Team and the UNM LOBO and Engineering Student Success Center, as well as UNM Facilities Management, Lobo Energy and the UNM Bike Shop (which will offer free chain adjustments and cleaning). The EV car show will end at 1:30 p.m. and feature a variety of all-electric vehicles.

The UNM School of Engineering has a long history in solar and renewable energy research. In addition to the annual Solar Splash solar boat competition that students have been competing in since 2016 (see the team’s recent competition results here) and the Formula SAE race car that recently went electric (the team is competing this week), a variety of other research is ongoing at the School, including:

  • For several years, Sang M. Han, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, has been focusing on materials and engineering solutions to improve the reliability of PV modules to extend their life and reliability while improving the efficiency of solar cells and reducing the manufacturing cost of the module. The Han Group and its start-up Osazda Energy have produced “stretchable” composite metal contacts that possess improved fracture resistance against a variety of environmental stressors, such as wind and snow load, temperature variations hot and cold weather and the impact of hail.
  • Sakineh Chabi, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, focused on artificial photosynthesis and solar fuels. She explains that essentially, solar fuel technology uses sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to produce valuable chemicals/fuels such as hydrogen, ethanol and methanol. His group’s research on solar fuels currently focuses on the production of hydrogen for use as an energy source. Although the process of making hydrogen by artificial photosynthesis has many environmental benefits, it is more expensive and less efficient than making hydrogen from fossil fuels. To solve these problems, they are making new catalysts for the formation of solar fuels and new membranes to make the whole process more efficient and less expensive.
  • Mechanical engineering professor Peter Vorobieff has led the UNM team since 2016 at the Solar Splash international collegiate solar boat competition every June in Ohio. Inspired by the work on the ship, Vorobieff and Jane Lehr, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, embarked on research that involved finding ways to convert container ships to run on clean solar energy rather than to polluting diesel.
  • Albuquerque is home to Sandia National Laboratories, which houses the National Solar Thermal Testing Facility, operated in conjunction with the US Department of Energy. It is the only such testing facility in the United States. Vorobieff is taking advantage of this nearby resource, collaborating with Gowtham Mohan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, with Sandia’s Solar Power Focus team on research to minimize heat loss from high-temperature particle receptors. This research could enable next-generation concentrated solar thermal power systems capable of reaching higher temperatures to enable more efficient power cycles, lower system costs, and new applications.
  • Gowtham is also taking the lead on a SETO-funded project announced this spring called “Semi-Transparent Bifacial Agrivoltaic System with Machine Learning.” This relates to the new field of agrivoltaics – combining agriculture with photovoltaic systems – which has only been effective for a limited group of crops due to the large amount of shading under solar panels. To address this challenge, this project will develop an agrivoltaic system using semi-transparent plastic bifacial solar panels. As these panels are semi-transparent, they will allow more light into crops than traditional solar panels. They can also use reflected light from plants to generate more electricity since they are bifacial. A machine learning model will be developed to predict the performance of the agrivoltaic system, and these predictions will be used to improve the system. The team will assess both PV system performance and agricultural crop yields
  • Another SETO project is led by Minghui Chen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, titled “Development and Demonstration of Innovative Compact Heat Exchangers for Concentrating Solar Power Plants”. This project is another project conducted in conjunction with Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility and will examine Printed Circuit Board Steam Generators (PCSGs), which are considered to have the potential to significantly reduce costs and improve the reliability of concentrated solar thermal power plants. This project will design, model and test PCSGs in molten salt to water and high temperature steam applications. In addition to collecting robust performance data for these systems, the team will generate new insights into their deformation, stress and creep-fatigue behaviors, boiling behavior in mini- or micro-channels, and flow oscillations and instabilities.

Learn more about research at the School of Engineering and UNM at engineering.unm.edu or research.unm.edu.