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Solar Flow spins out of Imperial to commercialise innovative, award-winning solar panel design

5 Dec 2018

Imperial Innovations announces the launch of new Imperial College London spinout Solar Flow, which aims to develop and commercialise a novel hybrid solar-energy concept. The company was founded by Christos Markides, Professor of Clean Energy Technologies from Imperial College London’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

The new solar-energy concept integrates two existing technologies—photovoltaics (PV) and solar-thermal (ST)—into a single panel. Such hybrid PV/T panels already exist, but typically result in trade-offs between the two technologies and inefficiencies in the panels’ overall performance. Through research undertaken at the College’s Clean Energy Processes (CEP) Laboratory, Prof Markides and colleagues have found a way to combine PV cells and an ST system synergistically and in a way that breaks from the conventional principles employed for hybrid PV/T panel design.

Hybrid PV/T panels use cooling fluids to remove heat from the PV cells. This thermal output can then also be delivered for hot-water or space-heating provision. In conventional designs, the PV cells and hot-fluid output are at or near the same temperature, leading to a conflict, whereby lower temperatures favour greater PV efficiencies, but are not associated with a useful thermal output, whereas high temperatures diminish the PV cell conversion efficiency leading to electrical losses.

Solar Flow’s innovative design overcomes this limitation by decoupling the PV cells from the cooling fluid, thus allowing them to run at two different temperatures. This is achieved by suitably splitting the sunlight, much like a prism does, into a portion that is sent to the cells and a portion that is sent to the fluid. In doing so, the Solar Flow design ensures that PV cells are kept cold and exposed only to light that can be converted into electricity, with the rest of the sunlight being diverted to the ST system for higher-temperature fluid (e.g., hot water) heating.

Solar FLow ICHemE awards

The company’s solution is expected to offer a significant reduction in both energy costs and carbon footprint, from a low-cost system. So far, it has been demonstrated that Solar Flow’s technology has the potential to deliver up to four times more useful energy than standard PV cells at the right conditions, and up to twice as much energy as existing, commercially-available PV/T panels.

Prof Markides’ research was shortlisted for the 2017 IChemE Global Awards and the 2018 Energy Institute Awards. The Solar Flow panel design won “Best Research Project” at the 2018 IChemE Global Awards and was a highly commended (Top 3) entry in the “Energy” category. The company has secured an Energy Entrepreneurs Fund grant from BEIS for the development of a prototype.

Solar Flow was formed through Founders Choice, a pilot programme run by Imperial Innovations and Imperial College London to promote greater entrepreneurial engagement among scientists and engineers.

Prof Christos Markides, founder of Solar Flow, said:

“By far the highest global growth and investment in renewables is being experienced by the solar sector. Solar Flow is proposing a disruptive technology in this exciting sector and I look forward to our next steps in proving the benefits to investors, users, and society. I am confident that this technology will lead to a great solution for all, at a significantly lower cost than competing solutions.”

Tim von Werne, Senior Technology Licensing Executive at Imperial Innovations, said:

“Solar Flow’s novel approach to PV/T design promises greater cost savings and efficiencies not only when compared to its constituent technologies, but also against panels already in the market. We have worked with Christos and the rest of the Solar Flow team to build a strong business case and development plan and I look forward to following the company’s future growth.”

Visit the Solar Flow website