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UNM hosting American Solar Energy Society national conference

June 16, 2022 - Kim Delker

The University of New Mexico will be the site of the 51st annual American Solar Energy Society (ASES) national solar conference, which will be held June 21-24 on the UNM campus and online.

The conference, titled “SOLAR 2022: Energy Transition with Economic Justice,” will have options to attend most sessions online or in person at the Student Union Building (SUB).

The conference is co-organized by the New Mexico Solar Energy Association (a local branch of ASES), which is a celebrating its 50th anniversary. One of the sponsors of the conference is the UNM School of Engineering.

The conference will kick off with an opening reception on June 21 featuring well-known scholar Noam Chomsky. Then on July 22, several New Mexico elected officials are featured in a segment called “Governments’ Role in the Renewable Energy Transformation,” including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller will speak at a dinner for the NMSEA 50th anniversary, and leaders from the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will participate June 23 in “Ensuring a Just & Equitable Transformation.” On June 24, speakers include UNM Regent Sandra Begay, an alumna of the School of Engineering, who is a principal member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories.

A full schedule of events and registration information is available on the ASES website.

Also being held in conjunction with the conference is the Solar Fiesta and electric vehicle (EV) car show, which will be held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 24, organized by NMSEA.

Solar Fiesta will feature booths, information, displays and demonstrations on Cornell Mall. Participants can learn more about solar, EV chargers, passive solar, tax credits and more.

Among those scheduled to participate are the UNM Solar Splash team and the UNM LOBO and the Engineering Student Success Center, along with UNM Facilities Management, Lobo Energy and the UNM Bike Shop (which will offer free adjustments and chain cleaning). The EV car show will end at 1:30 p.m. and will feature a variety of all-electric vehicles.

The UNM School of Engineering has a long history in solar and renewable energy research. In addition to the annual Solar Splash solar-powered boat contest that students have been participating in since 2016 (see the team’s recent competition results here) and the Formula SAE race car that recently went electric (the team is at competition this week), a variety of other research is ongoing in the School, including:

  • For several years, Sang M. Han, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, has been focusing on materials and engineering solutions to improve the reliability of PV modules to extend their life and reliability while also improving the solar cell efficiency and reducing the module manufacturing cost. The Han group and its startup company Osazda Energy have produced “stretchy” composite metal contacts that possess enhanced fracture toughness against a variety of environmental stressors, such as wind and snow load, hot and cold temperature swings, and hail impact.
  • Sakineh Chabi, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been focusing on artificial photosynthesis and solar fuels. She explains that basically, solar fuels technology uses sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to produce valuable chemicals/fuels such as hydrogen, ethanol, and methanol. The current focus of her group’s solar fuels research is on producing hydrogen for use as a source of energy. Although the process of making hydrogen via artificial photosynthesis has many environmental benefits, it is more expensive and less efficient than making hydrogen from fossil fuels. To address these issues, they are making new catalysts for solar fuels formation and new membranes to make the entire process more efficient and less expensive.
  • Peter Vorobieff, a professor of mechanical engineering, has since 2016 led the UNM team at the international collegiate Solar Splash solar-powered boat competition each June in Ohio. Inspired by the work on the boat, Vorobieff and Jane Lehr, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, are embarking on research that involves looking at ways to convert container ships to run on clean-energy solar rather than polluting diesel.
  • Albuquerque is home to Sandia National Laboratories, which features the National Solar Thermal Test Facility, operated in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy. It is the only test facility of this type in the United States. Vorobieff is taking advantage of this nearby resource, collaborating with Gowtham Mohan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, with the concentrating solar power team at Sandia on research to minimize the heat loss from high-temperature particle receivers. This research could enable next-generation concentrating solar thermal power systems that can achieve higher temperatures to enable more efficient power cycles, lower system costs and new applications.
  • Gowtham is also taking the lead on a SETO-funded project announced this spring called “Semi-transparent Bifacial Agrivoltaic System with Machine Learning.” This involves the new field of agrivoltaics — combining agriculture with PV systems — which has only been effective for a limited group of crops due to the high amount of shading under the solar panels. To address this challenge, this project will develop an agrivoltaic system using semi-transparent, plastic bifacial solar panels. Since these panels are semi-transparent, they will let more light through to the crops than traditional solar panels. They can also use light reflected from the plants to produce more electricity since they are bifacial. A machine learning model will be developed to predict the performance of the agrivoltaic system, and these predictions will be used to improve the system. The team will evaluate both the PV system performance and the agricultural crop yields
  • Another SETO project is led by Minghui Chen, an assistant professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, called “Development and Demonstration of Innovative Compact Heat Exchangers for Concentrated Solar Power Plants.” This project is another one being conducted in collaboration with Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility and will look at printed circuit steam generators (PCSGs), which are seen as having the potential to dramatically reduce cost and improve reliability in concentrating solar-thermal power plants. This project will design, model, and test PCSGs in high-temperature molten salt-to-water and steam applications. In addition to gathering robust performance data for these systems, the team will generate new knowledge about their material strain, stress and creep-fatigue behaviors, boiling behavior in both mini- or micro-channels, and flow oscillations and instabilities.

Learn more about research in the School of Engineering and UNM at or