May 16, 2008 A team of students in the College of Engineering at Rowan University is working with local inventor Neal Cramer to advance what's described as the first truly new solar thermal system in more than three decades.

Current solar panel designs work using a 2-D flat surface to capture sunlight whereas Cramer’s system works on a three-dimensional process, termed "3-D", for obtaining energy from the sun. The ability to heat in three dimensions in theory allows the absorption of far more solar energy.


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The team of students, led by chemical engineering associate professor Dr. Kevin Dahm, will work on facilitating a rapid introduction of the lightweight system into the market. Though there's little detail on how the system actually works in the Rowan University release, it's pitched as a cost effective with the potential to be competitive with non-renewable energy, even without government subsidies. Typical PV solar systems produce 10 kW of energy, require an array of panels that can cover half a roof, cost on average $80,000 and reduce energy costs about $1,500 a year. It is anticipated that the 3-D solar system will be available for between five to 10% of the cost and produce just as much energy savings.

The students have set up a lab to work on the project and have already constructed the solar panels out of a readily available, durable material. The current system is just a test panel, the team will still need to determine how best to transfer the heat the panels retain to a house. The system will initially focus on residential applications, including producing hot water for cleaning, washing and bathing and soon thereafter space heating. With additional engineering, the solar collectors may be used for heat-driven cooling as well.