Advanced Manufacturing of Metals Will Power the Future of Solar Energy
Utah State University researchers are part of a team that recently received a $4.6 million grant from the United States Department of Energy to further solar energy research.
Nadia Kouraytem, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is leading USU’s contribution to this multi-institution project aimed at manufacturing metallic materials better equipped to withstand the operational conditions of elevated temperatures and pressure in concentrated solar power plants.
Nadia Kouraytem will lead USU’s contribution to a multi-institution project aimed at creating materials better equipped to withstand elevated temperatures and pressure in concentrated solar plants.
Concentrated solar power plants, which typically generate solar power by using mirrors or lenses to concentrate a large area of sunlight onto a receiver. Electricity is generated when the concentrated light is converted to heat, which drives a heat engine connected to an electrical power generator.
Kouraytem and her team will focus on understanding the creep and fatigue behaviors of 3D printed metals used for components at these plants. Creep is the tendency of materials to deform over time when subjected to long-term stress and heat. The structural components will be subjected to repeated stress over time, so studying fatigue is crucial to determine the lifetime of the materials until fracture.
For this project, the team will use laser powder bed fusion, a 3D printing process in which a laser selectively melts together the metal powders in a layer-by-layer fashion to form a three-dimensional part. In the long run, this is a more cost-effective option to fabricate complex metallic structures used at solar plants.
In addition to USU, four other universities are collaborating on the project — Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Michigan and University of California, Davis. Sandia National Laboratories is also involved, as well as three companies — Sunvapor Inc., Materials Resources LLC and AMETEK Specialty Metal Products.
“This project is very important in advancing the future of renewable energy specifically for concentrated solar power plants,” Kouraytem said. “It’s going to help us understand how we can implement the use of these advanced manufacturing techniques to fabricate metallic components for renewable energy.”