Get grants to develop technology to reduce CO2 emissions

Article By : Glenn Weinreb

Nonprofit organization Manhattan 2 offers engineers $5k to develop free and open technology to help mitigate climate change.

Manhattan 2, a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, will award up to 15 small grants ($5K each) in 2020 to develop electrical, mechanical, and software technology that reduces climate change. Undergraduate students, graduate students, professors, and degreed professionals of any nationality, residing at any international location are eligible. Proposals are due February 15, 2020. For program details, click here. Applicants are to select from one of the topics listed below.

Develop standardized plug-and-play solar PV panels with embedded electronics and embedded conductors: Mechanical or electrical engineering

Participants will develop next-generation standardized PV panels with embedded electronics and embedded conductors. For example, one might design a standardized 2×10 meter panel that stacks on the back of a flatbed truck and is installed via crane. Mechanical engineers will design mechanical systems for large solar panels on land (solar farm), commercial roof (e.g. 30×100 meter roof on metal framing), or direct-to-plywood roof or wall (e.g. for residential). Assume automated machinery is available for installation. The system must support replacement and/or repair in the event of fault. Using 3D mechanical modeling software, you should show the design and simulation for ~50 years of UV, wind, rain, hail strike, erosion, and thermal cycling. Electrical engineers will design circuits for embedded electronics and off-panel modules that further process electricity.

Researchers may propose mechanical standards, electrical connector standards, and communication standards. They may also propose building codes and national electrical code for building integrated PV (BiPV). For ideas on next generation solar packaging and installation, click here.

There is also a need to develop a standardized mechanical system that supports PV panels with embedded electronics and embedded conductors that connect together on land within a solar farm. Mechanical engineers will explore flat and/or rolled designs (e.g. spool of 2×50 meter 1 cm thick material that rests on metal framing).

A system that mounts on a commercial roof should also be developed. Consider systems where rigid PV panels implement roof structure and water barrier (e.g. 2×10 meter corrugated steel panel with built in) as well as non-water-barrier systems that are placed on top of a traditional roof. Mechanical engineers can look at flat panel designs or rolled material.

A third system should be designed to be placed directly onto building surfaces, including both walls and roofs. Assume:

  • Material provides water barrier.
  • Material is supported by installation machinery (e.g. truck with articulating arm accurately routes grooves and drills holes in plywood and handles large spools of rolled material).
  • Material is prepared in factory with features using architectural drawings (e.g. cut holes in material at specific locations to support vents).
  • Material supports repair and/or replacement.

We need to develop electronics for large standardized plug-and-play solar panels. Engineers should analyze the various electrical options, calculate costs, design circuits, and build prototypes. Assume:

  • Large solar panels contain two internal bus conductors (e.g. each 0.5mm × 80cm × 10 meters aluminum) for routing current, providing mechanical strength, and supporting a heat sink for electronics.
  • System is resistant to faults from internal ~200 W converter. For example, one might have two MOSFETs that open in the event of fault. One MOSFET might sit between solar PV and converter PCB, and another between converter PCB and common current bus.
  • Converter PCB monitors internal nodes via A/D (e.g. input current/voltage input, output current/voltage, capacitance of input capacitor, capacitance of output capacitor, inductance of main inductor, etc.).
  • Failure of any converter PCB component (e.g. to short or to open), or a short circuit between any two nodes, does not create enough heat to cause fire or melt material.
  • Converter PCB shuts down system in event of high temperature or current detected on earth ground shield (e.g. due to insulation failure between conductor and enclosure).
  • Panels clip together, end-to-end in a standardized way (e.g. four 2×10-m panels form 2×40-m assembly).
  • Assemblies terminate at a spine on land, or cavity inside building. It is here that electricity on bus conductors (e.g. 40VDC, 400 A, 16 kW) is converted to something more useful (e.g. 110…220VAC for buildings and 660…1440VAC for solar farm) via a string inverter module designed by researchers.
  • An embedded electronic converter circuit manages each ~1 square meter of solar for purposes of MPPT (maximum power point tracking), fire prevention (turn off in event of fault), and degradation management (shading one area does not affect entire array).

For example, a researcher might design a 45VDC-to-40VDC DC-to-DC converter (200 W, $10 parts cost, $0.05/Watt, 4-mm tall components) that is implemented with a ~$2 microprocessor and networked via CANbus. Note that low voltage non-isolated DC buck converter circuits are typically lower cost and lower height than higher voltage isolated AC circuits (for an example, see this TI design report). If one combines eight of these in series to produce a 300 VDC substring, and then combines both substrings in parallel, they could create 300 VDC/42 A/13 kW inside a 1-cm thick panel assembly via low cost buck converters, which later drive an off-panel 300 VDC-to-110 VAC grid-tie inverter, for example (e.g. 2nd stage of typical string inverter). Combining ~200 W circuits is tricky. Researchers will evaluate different voltage/current schemes and look for the lowest system cost focusing on three applications: residential (e.g. 5 kW to 20 kW, 110 VAC or 220VAC system grid tie output), commercial roof (e.g. 100 kW to 1 MW, 440VAC system grid tie output), and solar farm (e.g. 1 MW to 100 MW, 1 KV to 30 KV AC or DC site output).

The below illustration shows an example stack-up for building integrated PV material, looking in from the end and not drawn to scale (e.g. 2 m across × 10-mm high). The glass is shown in yellow, solar PV is purple, PCB is green, power bus plate (and heat sink) is blue, TO-220 MOSFET is gray, insulation is brown, and base support material is orange (thermal insulation, mechanical support). Aluminum foil (red) is connected to earth ground to reduce RFI radiation and enable ground fault protection (turn off panel in the event voltage is detected at foil due to insulation failure).

Develop methods to reduce cost of drilling ground source: Mechanical or civil engineering

Participants will design a machine that utilizes an independent drilling mechanism that worms its way into the ground instead of the traditional method of drilling (e.g. rotate heavy pipe that traverses entire length of drill hole with ~10,000 Kg of downward pressure). If one circulates 55°F ground water through a heating/air conditioning heat pump, instead of outside air, they can reduce space heating/cooling energy consumption approximately 2 to 1. The problem is it is expensive to install underground piping through which one circulates water. The aim of this project is to reduce the cost of installing this pipe.

Develop motorized window thermal cover devices and standards: Electrical engineering or computer science

The project will require development of a controller PCB that manages a motorized rolled window thermal blind to cover a window. For example, one could have a $2 microprocessor drive a stepper motor, sense torque, and interface to a DALI lighting network (i.e. 110/220VAC power wires and two digital wires). This inexpensive PCB might be seen as a light on the DALI network where 0-to-100% illumination corresponds to 0-to-100% deployment of the thermal cover. While motorized thermal cover products already exist, they are not readily used because there is no standardized, reliable, and low-power method to connect them to a building (wireless does not meet these requirements). It is our goal to change this with mechanical, electrical connector, and wired communication standards proposed by researchers.

Develop next-generation 2-wire data signaling system, similar to RS-485 yet better: Electrical engineering

Currently the DALI lighting network standard uses two wires in a tree wiring topology to transfer data between lights and other devices in a building at 1200 bits per second. Researchers will need to develop a new version of DALI that supports up to 80K bits/second, supports tree topology, is electrically isolated, and is protected against damage in the event of accidental connection to 110/220 VAC.

Develop next-generation mechanical system for routing power wires within a building, similar to Romex 3-wire cable yet better: Mechanical engineering

Power wiring connections are typically implemented with screw force, where a screw head presses against a wire with thousands of pounds-per-square-inch of force. This creates reliable connections that last 100 years. Researchers will develop an alternative system for power wiring connections that supports adding two data wires to the typical 3-wire Romex cable, for purposes of automation and control. The proposed system must have reliability equal to or better than existing screw force systems, and installation time must not increase, which requires a motorized installation tool designed by researchers.

Develop next-generation building automation and control systems and standards: Electrical engineering or computer science

There are many technologies researchers can develop to support next-generation building automation and control that reduces CO2 emissions. For research ideas, click here.

How to apply

You can apply or learn more about the Manhattan 2 Grant program here.

Glenn Weinreb is founder and CEO of GW Instruments. He founded Manhattan 2 with Victor Colantonio of NorthEast Optic Networks.

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