Solar Energy the Third Way

The Public Science Lectures

February 14, 2012 at Boston University College of Arts and Sciences

Gang Chen, Ph.D., Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The conversion of sunlight into electricity has been dominated by two approaches: photovoltaic (PV) and solar-thermal power generation. Photovoltaic cells are mostly deployed as flat panels on rooftops or solar farms, while solar-thermal electricity generation technology relying on bulky optical concentrating systems and mechanical heat engines are used in large power plants.

Professor Gang Chen gives an overview of the two current methods of generating electricity from sunlight. He then turns to the potential of using the thermoelectric effect to harness solar energy for the production of electricity. He explains the basics of thermoelectric energy conversion and advanced materials, and then describes solar thermoelectric generators (STEGs) that combine solar power with thermoelectric generators. Dr. Chen explains the increasing popularity of STEGs in Europe and China as these devices become more efficient, less expensive and easier to install compared to other types of solar energy.

Gang Chen, Ph.D., is the C. R. Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor Chen serves as the director of Solid-State Solar-Thermal Energy Conversion Center (S3TEC), a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center. He has published extensively in the area of nanoscale energy transport and conversion and nanoscale heat transfer, and co-founded GMZ Energy. Dr. Chen is a member of the US National Academy of Engineering, and he is a Guggenheim Fellow, an AIAA Fellow, an AAAS Fellow, and an ASME Fellow. Dr. Chen has received numerous awards, including the NSF Young Investigator Award, the ASME Heat Transfer Memorial Award, the R&D100 Award, and the MIT McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising.

Chair of the ASME Nanotechnology Institute Advisory Board Co-Editor: Annual Review of Heat Transfer Associate Editor: ASME Journal of Heat Transfer Editor: Microscale Thermophysical Engineering

Professor Chen’s Nanoengineering Group Labat MIT

article on Professor Chen in The Economist: Solar Power the Third Way

article on Professor Chen in Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence News