Shrish Patel, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has won the graduate division of 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. It has awarded more than $1 million to students nationwide.
Winners receive a cash prize and are awarded a USPTO acceleration certificate, which can be “redeemed to accelerate either a patent application, including one appeal to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board from that application, or an appeal to the board of a claim twice rejected in a patent application or reissue application.”
“I am honored and humbled that my work has been recognized by the National Inventors Hall of Fame,” Patel said. “I would like to thank my advisor, Alexander Orlov, for his expertise and guidance throughout the project.”
“I am very proud of Shrish winning the Collegiate Inventors Competition that celebrates the Nation’s most creative graduate students,” said Orlov, Patel’s faculty adviser and professor of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering. “The judges, made up of the most influential inventors and innovation experts in the country, recognized an incredible potential of his work that highlights the creativity and passion Shrish has put into his research. His accomplishments reflect the quality of Stony Brook students, who can successfully compete against very talented teams from Harvard, MIT, NYU, Duke, Purdue, UIUC and Stanford, and be recognized as the best in the nation.”
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. SolarClear technology is now licensed for further development to SuperClean Glass Inc. ,which was founded by Orlov and is part of the Stony Brook University Clean Energy Business Incubator Program (CEBIP).
Stony Brook has won the CIC 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.
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.
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.