Shrish Patel, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has been named a graduate finalist in the 2021 Collegiate Inventors Competition (CIC) for his invention, SolarClear, an electric field assisted approach for cleaning solar panels.
Established in 1990, the CIC is an annual competition run by the National Inventors Hall of Fame and is sponsored by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and Arrow Electronics. Each year, the CIC selects several undergraduate and graduate finalists from colleges and universities across the nation, rewarding innovation, discovery and research by students and their faculty advisers.
SolarClear addresses the problem of keeping solar panels clean for large-scale solar power plants, which are greatly affected by dust storms, especially in the western United States, Middle East and North Africa. While solutions exist to clean them, they are considered impractical and expensive; cleaning a typical utility-scale solar installation requires a staggering 600,000 to 1 million gallons of potable water.
SolarClear uses autonomous waterless cleaning technology that is both significantly more effective and efficient compared to existing technologies. Additionally, the unique design of the electrodes that are used in the system makes SolarClear economically viable for utility-scale installation in the desert. Patel’s faculty adviser is Alexander Orlov, professor of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering.
The SolarClear technology has been recognized several times recently, including the R&D100 awards, also known as the “Oscars of Innovation,” and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) 2021 Sustainable Engineering Forum Industrial Practice Award. The invention received a grant from New York State (via Fuzehub) to try a new manufacturing method based on high-speed large-scale 2D printing to accelerate scale-up manufacturing, and also earned the Department of Energy’s American-Made Solar Prize for 2021 with a $100,000 prize and $75,000 in national lab vouchers to develop the technology further.
Competition finalists will present their inventions Oct. 13 in a virtual format to a panel of judges made up of the most influential inventors and invention experts in the nation, including National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees and USPTO officials. Winning teams will be announced on Oct. 14.
“Year after year, the Collegiate Inventors Competition celebrates truly talented innovators through the spirt of competition, and the finalists here today represent some of the best examples of hard work, dedication, and outside the box creativity,” said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves. “Through innovation, these young people will not only play a role in helping to change the future for the better, they are also creating for themselves a pathway to the opportunity and prosperity that is one of the hallmarks of the American Dream.”
Stony Brook University has won first place in the CIC only once before, in 2014, when Katarzyna Sawicka won the graduate division for the innovative Immuno-Matrix skin patch, which used nanofibers to hold and effectively deliver a vaccine through the skin.
In April 2021, Patel received a national award for his research that utilizes concrete waste for the removal of nitrogen dioxide, one of the most dangerous and prevalent air pollutants in the country. The American Chemical Society recognized Patel’s research by selecting him for the 2020 Graduate Student Award in Environmental Chemistry.