DOE Funding for Volumetrically Absorbing Thermal Insulator (VATI) for Monolithic High-Temperature Microchannel Receiver Modules

The U would like to announce that it was selected to receive a $500,000 award from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to advance concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) research and development. This project will explore a novel approach to improve the overall solar to thermal collection efficiencies by reducing both optical and thermal losses.

Critical to enabling large-scale concentrated solar thermal power conversion is to maximize the concentrated solar to thermal efficiency. This project will explore volumetric absorption within porous structures which are monolithically integrated with microchannel modules. Solar-thermal conversion in such a module will improve the overall receiver efficiency by simultaneously reducing optical and thermal losses at temperatures in excess of 720 °C.

Several approaches have been explored to reduce optical and thermal losses for high-temperature CSP applications, but most approaches are unsuited for prolonged operation at temperatures in excess of 720 °C. Volumetric absorption within carefully tailored porous refractory materials can enable volumetric absorption of incident solar radiation, reflected optical losses, and re-emitted thermal losses to improve receiver efficiency. The project will explore detailed considerations of coupled optical and radiative thermal transport to develop optimized porous geometries for a wide variety of operating considerations. In addition, these structures are monolithically integrated to a microchannel module which in turn enables the efficient transfer of thermal energy at high heat fluxes.

The University of Utah was selected as a part of the Energy Department’s FY2018 SETO funding program, an effort to invest in new projects that will lower solar electricity costs and support a growing solar workforce. The U is one of several CSP projects that will develop materials and designs for collectors, power cycles, and thermal transport systems that can withstand high temperatures and resist corrosion.

The project will utilize refractory materials which are suited for long-term operation at elevated temperatures. This robust module with its long service life, low cost, and high efficiency can play an important role in reducing the cost of CSP technology.

About the U Investigators 

The performance team is composed of University of Utah mechanical engineering assistant professor Sameer Rao (principal investigator) in the Energy Science and Engineering Laboratory, associate professors Mathieu Francoeur (co-principal investigator) of the Radiative Energy Transfer Laboratory and Keunhan Park (co-principal investigator) of the Utah Nano-Energy Laboratory.

About the Solar Energy Technologies Office

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office supports early-stage research and development to improve the affordability, reliability, and performance of solar technologies on the grid. Learn more at