College of Science & Engineering
The Solar Energy Laboratory at the University of Minnesota specializes in development of thermal technologies for a wide range of applications including high-temperature cycles that utilize concentrated solar radiation for fuel and power production, intermediate-temperature latent heat storage to enhance grid stability, and low-temperature distributed solar systems for space heating, cooling and hot water. The two pathways to solar fuels examined in this laboratory are:
- The solar thermal gasification of biomass, in which carbonaceous materials such as coal, organic waste, or biomass are converted to either H2 or CO with the use of H2O or CO2 as the gasifying agent, respectively
- Solar chemical-looping reforming, in which methane is partially oxidized to 2:1 H2:CO syngas by oxygen released from an oxygen carrier (e.g. CeO2) and then H2O and/or CO2 oxidize the reduced metal oxide to produce H2 and/or CO.
MSI resources are used to model various aspects of chemical reactions, fluid flow, radiative transport, heat and mass transfer, and structural mechanics for the design of prototype reactors and the analysis of experimental results.
Research is also being performed to improve grid stability through the implementation of thermal storage systems that incorporate phase change materials with internal structures. MSI resources are used to simulate mass and heat transport and liquid-solid phase change during charging and discharging processes to predict system performance.
Finally, the effect of particle geometric and optical properties on heat transfer is being investigated for concentrated solar energy storage and power generation. Small particles are being investigated as a heat transfer fluid in concentrating solar energy plants to replace molten salts due to their low cost and stability at high temperatures. Simulations of mass and heat transport process in particle flows will be essential to understanding the fundamental mechanics of how heat is transferred to and from these particles. Understanding how heat is transferred to and from particles is essential for efficiently capturing and releasing concentrated solar energy, thus increasing overall system performance.