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TU awarded $1.5 million grant for SETO solar research

The University of Tulsa Department of Mechanical Engineering has been selected to receive a $1.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to advance research on concentrating solar power. Mechanical engineering faculty and students will focus their efforts on lessoning the risk of particle use in high temperature solar thermal power plants.

(Left to right) Professors Michael Keller, Todd Otanicar and Siamack Shirazi receive the SETO award from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The SETO Generation 3 Concentrating Solar Power Systems (Gen3 CSP) funding program will build on previous research for high-temperature concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) technologies. Individual projects will attempt to advance high-temperature components and develop integrated assembly designs with thermal energy storage that can reach high operating temperatures. The Gen3 CSP program has selected three teams to build an integrated system that can efficiently receive solar heat and deliver it to a working fluid at greater than 700 °C while incorporating thermal energy storage. During the first two-years of the project, these teams will de-risk the components of CSP technology options, prepare a detailed design for a test facility and undergo a rigorous review for final selection of one awardee to construct a proposed facility.

In addition to the three awardees, TU is among eight recipients chosen to develop either component-level technology or apply unique cross-cutting research capabilities that support the goal of a successful integrated testing site. The project will allow diverse teams of researchers, laboratories, developers and manufacturers to test components and systems through operating conditions necessary to improve CSP technology. TU’s area of research will build on its expertise in solar energy and erosion to develop CSP plants that are more efficient.

“The next generation of plants are expected to operate well above 700 °C, but there are many unknowns about functionality at this high of a temperature,” said Todd Otanicar, principal investigator and associate professor of mechanical engineering. “TU will specifically concentrate on plant durability particularly from erosion at high temperatures.”

TU’s specific role involves developing a comprehensive particle and substrate durability model that will enable improved understanding of the performance of high-temperature components for the particle-based pathway. The team will advance existing research capabilities in erosion, corrosion, fracture mechanics, macro- and micro-scale materials characterization and thermal and optical property characterization. The results will be used to develop a broad understanding of mechanical durability that can be used to determine component lifetime and performance degradation models.

“This program will help drive the solar industry closer to the Department of Energy cost target for CSP energy to 5 cents/kilowatt hour by 2030,” Otanicar said. “This will be one of Oklahoma’s first program leads for the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office.”