Valpo Solar Furnace Achieves Milestones in High Stakes Project!

Scott Duncan Profile


Using 305 mirrors of the solar furnace that has the power of 2000 suns and concentrates energy like a giant magnifying glass, the team of the James S. Markiewicz Solar Energy Facility at Valparaiso University is preparing to move from the lab into the solar furnace to continue its groundbreaking research. Funded through a $2.3 million grant through the Department of Energy, the goal is to create a commercially viable process of making magnesium using sunlight. “The team has proven the feasibility of doing this in the laboratory, and now we are preparing to do this in the solar furnace,” said Scott Duncan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Valpo College of Engineering. This follows on the heels of the team meeting multiple milestones of the DOE for the first year of its ARPA – E grant. Success could result in a cost-effective manufacturing process in the U.S. that is less harmful to the environment and less energy intensive. Today, most magnesium comes from China and is desirable in the transportation sector because it is 30% lighter than aluminum. Now students guided by faculty are designing and building a solar thermal reactor for the second phase of this three-year project. The DOE grant is the first of two grants awarded the College. The second is from the National Science Foundation to produce hydrogen for fuel cells and other sectors. These projects have involved upwards of 60 undergraduate students. Research is directed by Dr. Robert Palumbo, principal investigator, who had the idea to create the nation’s 5th solar furnace at Valpo.  This team won the 2014 – 2015 Accelerating Greatness Award for Team Innovation.

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