US DOE Announces University Solar Energy Research Opportunities

Developing advanced heat transfer fluids could increase the efficiency of concentrated solar thermal power  technology and help drive down the cost of reliable, renewable solar power

As part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative, Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced two opportunities that will engage innovative scientific thinkers from the nation’s top universities to drive transformational research in solar energy. To advance promising utility-scale solar energy technologies, DOE will make up to $10 million available to support the development of more efficient heat transfer fluids to reduce the cost of energy from concentrating solar power (CSP) systems. Today’s announcement also opens the second round of SunShot Initiative postdoctoral research awards for applied research at universities, national laboratories, and other research facilities.

"In the spirit of our nation’s long legacy of innovation, researchers at America’s universities continue to make breakthroughs that revolutionize how the world uses energy," said Secretary Chu. "These university-based research opportunities represent important investments that will advance key solar technologies and foster the next generation of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs in solar energy."

Developing More Efficient Concentrating Solar Thermal Power Systems

DOE will provide up to $10 million to university-based projects over five years to develop and demonstrate innovative heat transfer fluids for use in CSP energy systems. CSP plants use mirrors to focus sunlight to heat a working fluid. This high-temperature fluid generates steam, which then spins a turbine or powers a heat engine that produces electricity. Developing advanced heat transfer fluids could significantly increase the efficiency of CSP technology and help drive down the cost of reliable, renewable solar power.

The Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative: High Operating Temperature Fluids solicitation seeks applicants to develop innovative heat transfer fluids that are more stable than current technologies at temperatures greater than 800C. This could enable CSP systems to couple with heat engines capable of converting more than 50% of the heat in the working fluid into electricity.

This funding will be awarded as part of the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative, a program designed to advance research, accelerate technology transfer into the marketplace, and prepare a new generation of scientists and engineers to become leaders in the solar power industry. DOE anticipates funding one to two projects through this opportunity. For more information and application requirements, please visit the Funding Opportunity Exchange website. To learn more about how CSP systems work, watch the Energy 101 video.

Supporting the Next Generation of Clean Energy Research

In addition, Secretary Chu today announced the next round of SunShot Initiative postdoctoral research awards, which will provide the best and brightest scientific minds in the country with an opportunity to work on advanced clean energy technologies and conduct applied research at universities, national laboratories, and other research facilities. SunShot postdoctoral researchers and awardees pursuing topics in renewable energy and energy efficiency will have access to unique education and training opportunities, top scientists in their field, and state-of-the-art projects and equipment.

This program announcement includes an opportunity for recipients to participate in a research exchange program with Australia under the aegis of the United States-Australia Solar Energy Collaboration. With researchers from Australia having already begun their work in the United States, this exchange opportunity provides a complementary mechanism for U.S. scientists to conduct research under the mentorship of Australian scientists in Australian solar research laboratories.

Postdoctoral research positions are offered by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) in support of the SunShot Initiative’s mission. More information is available on the SunShot postdoctoral research awards, as well as other EERE postdoctoral research opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative is a nationwide effort that aims to dramatically decrease the total costs of solar energy at the utility, commercial, and residential levels by 75% before the end of the decade, making solar energy cost-competitive with conventional, unsubsidized forms of electricity and enabling widespread deployment of solar energy.

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy invests in clean energy technologies that strengthen the economy, protect the environment, and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.