Round 2: The second round of the #SciFund Challenge took place in early 2012, and STEMulate Learning sought support for two projects, the first of which I discussed last week: #SciFund Round 2, Personalized Robotics. The second project of Round 2 involved a biomimetic underwater solar and wave energy production system modeled after large seaweed. This flexible artificial Solar Seaweed is intended to operate when shallowly submerged and can provide power from photovoltaic conversion of sunlight and piezoelectric conversion of wave energy, while also providing sheltered havens for fish hatcheries in areas where pollution and dredging have denuded reef areas.
The combined support from round #2’s Solar Seaweed project was $243 USD, which provided funding to conduct a test dive during which solar energy conversion could be measured at different depths in the natural waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Two PADI-certified master divers from Texas A&M University were conducting their own research in the Gulf and agreed to take measurements using the prototype of the solar seaweed at increments until power yield fell below 2% of surface power output. The Aggie divers volunteered their time and only asked that I cover costs for half of the day’s boat rental and two tanks for the afternoon dives. Fortunately, they were able to provide their own regulators, masks, weight belts and the other items required to conduct a dive safely.
The dive was a success, allowing data gathering at 3 foot increments down to 30 feet below the surface where power output had fallen below 3% of the measured surface output. We observed an improvement in photovoltaic power output brought about by the water‘s cooling effect on the flexible panels, and found that the multilayer photovoltaic ink used in the flexible panels performed to a greater depth than the monocrystalline solar cells included in the test for reference – most likely because the solar inks responded better to the blue end of the light spectrum that penetrates deeper into the water. We were pleased to discover that near the surface, reflected and refracted light also illuminated the side oriented away from the sun and that a stream of air bubbles was able to partially improve the power output from the shaded panel.
Thanks to the crowdfunded support from Round 2 of the #SciFund Challenge that provided equipment rental for this open-water test, my students and I will be able to explore several of the preliminary findings in greater detail in controlled conditions:
- if specialized flexible panels could be produced to map photovoltaic spectrum response changes at different depths and maximize energy output
- if bubble size and spacing affects shaded PV panel power output
- to test the piezoelectric wave-power harvesting system not employed in this first open-water test prototype
Round 2’s Solar Seaweed project in the #SciFund Challenge proved the initial theories behind the design and provided details for future exploration of this ongoing line of research into “green” energy systems. Our Round 3 projects will seek support to develop other lines of research into neurocomputing and SOLID Learning, so make sure to check back for more details!