Pitt | Swanson Engineering
Solar Glass Project Selected in Top 20 for Department of Energy American-Made Solar Prize

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 19, 2020) — A project developed at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has been selected for the American-Made Solar Prize, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) competition designed to incentivize entrepreneurs toward U.S. solar energy innovation and manufacturing.

The project, “Durable Antireflective and Self-Cleaning Glass,” is led by Paul W. Leu, PhD, professor of industrial engineering, and Sajad Haghanifar, doctoral candidate in Leu’s lab. Sooraj Sharma, a senior studying materials science and engineering, has also worked on this project through the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) Undergraduate Summer Research Program.

The team is evaluating new methods to improve the top glass sheet in solar panels. The top glass on a solar panel is partially reflective, losing valuable rays that could be converted to energy as they bounce off the glass. Conventional anti-reflective coatings aren’t effective against a broad range of wavelengths, and the team is instead using sub-wavelength nanostructures that may reduce broadband reflection over a wide range of incidence angles to as low as 0 percent.

Haghanifar’s recent research into glasswing-butterfly inspired glass, highlighted on the cover of Materials Horizons, has demonstrated proof of concept for the solar glass project.

“Glasswing butterflies have small random structures that enable it to be antireflecting across many wavelengths as well many different directions,” says Haghanifar. “This is important because sunlight consists of a broad range of light and most solar panels are fixed while the sun moves through the sky during the day.”

Solar panels may also be installed in desert and urban environments, where particulates and pollutants may dirty the glass, blocking sunlight from being converted to electricity. The team is evaluating methods to use naturally forming dew droplets to remove dirt.

“Solar panels are one of the most promising forms of renewable energy, and our research addresses some of the problems hindering its wide use,” says Sharma. “We’re excited to see the wide range of innovations proposed in this round of the competition. This prize will enable us to advance our project to the next level and take substantial steps toward clean, renewable energy.”

The project is one of 20 that has made it to this round out of the 120 submissions, chosen for the novelty of the solution and how impactful it would be against the problems facing the solar industry. The project is being pursued in collaboration with the National Energy Technology Laboratory and Corning.  Each team will receive a $50,000 cash prize and is eligible for the next round of the competition, which rewards a cash prize of $100,000 and up to $75,000 in vouchers. The following, final phase of the competition, will select two final projects to win a $500,000 prize in September 2020.  

Maggie Pavlick, 2/19/2020

Contact: Maggie Pavlick