The University of Chicago News Office
March 30, 2004 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
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Solargenix Energy sees bright future in Windy City for University of Chicago solar technology

    Downloadable Photo:
Roland Winston


Solargenix Energy, a Raleigh, N.C.-based company that commercializes a solar-energy technology invented at the University of Chicago, has opened a new manufacturing facility at 3622 S. Morgan St. The technology is used to heat and cool buildings and generate power.

“The main reason Solargenix has come to Chicago is that the city is a leader in green initiatives,” said Alan Thomas, Director of the University of Chicago’s Office of Technology and Intellectual Property. The city agreed to purchase $5 million worth of solar-energy systems from Solargenix over the next three years in order to bring the company and new manufacturing jobs to Chicago.

“We are delighted to have Solargenix Energy open a manufacturing operation in Chicago, not only because of the jobs it brings but also because its product is environmentally friendly,” said Mayor Richard M. Daley. “As a special bonus it turns out that the technology was homegrown at the University of Chicago. It is an excellent example of what the synergy between the city, the private sector and our universities can accomplish.”

Solargenix designs, markets, manufactures, installs and maintains a variety of patented solar-energy systems capable of producing hot water, steam or electricity for residential, industrial, institutional, commercial and utility customers.

The basis of the company is the non-imaging optics technology licensed from the University of Chicago. Solargenix has exclusive worldwide licenses and rights to develop and market the technology for all solar applications.

Invented and developed by Roland Winston when he was a physics professor at the University of Chicago, the technology uses an innovative optical surface called a compound parabolic concentrator to concentrate light more intensively than traditional optics. In some applications, this technology has proven the capability to concentrate sunlight up to 84,000 times the natural level of sunlight at Earth’s surface. This exceeds the intensity of the surface of the sun by 15 percent.

Non-imaging optics serve as light funnels that collect and intensify radiation far better than do lenses and mirrors, Winston said. Lenses and mirrors produce almost perfect images at the focal point, but they blur and broaden the images away from the focus, he said.

The technology has another advantage. It collects light from much of the sky, so it requires no moving parts to track the sun. Similarly, the technology also is used to enhance tracking solar collection systems. Conventional solar arrays must move over a range of 60 degrees from winter to summer in order to collect direct radiation from the sun.

The new Solargenix operation has already begun manufacturing the compound parabolic concentrators. “Most collectors that we sell in the U.S. will be coming out of Chicago for now,” said Jeff Myles, Solargenix director of legal and administration.

Winston traces his interest in collecting light with maximum efficiency to a course he took as a graduate student from the late Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar at the University of Chicago approximately 40 years ago. Chandrasekhar, who received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1983, taught Winston that sine law was the most important principle in optics.

The sine law dictates how efficiently light can be concentrated, yet solar-energy researchers failed to apply the principle to their work. Winston began working intensively on the problem himself in 1973. By the 1980s, manufacturers in the United States, Israel, Japan and Europe had launched the technology in demonstration projects. The first application of the Solargenix Power Roof, a roof-integrated solar cooling and heating system, began operation in Raleigh, N.C., in July 2002. The system provides 50 tons of solar-driven space cooling using Winston’s non-imaging optics.

“I’m driven by the mathematics of these non-imaging optics, which is very pretty,” Winston said. “The fact that it is also useful is great. This makes high-temperature solar energy practical.”

Winston has received awards for his solar research, including the C. Raymond Kraus medal from Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, the Abbott Award of the American solar Energy Society and the Farrington Daniels Award from the International Solar Energy Society.

A former Chairman of the Physics Department, Winston left his professorship at the University of Chicago in 2003 to become a founding faculty member of the University of California, Merced. He remains affiliated with the University of Chicago’s Fermi Institute. Founding the first research university of the 21st century is as exciting as founding non-imaging optics, Winston said.

Myles noted that Winston’s office at the University of Chicago sat directly across the street from the site where Enrico Fermi and his colleagues produced the first controlled nuclear chain reaction in 1942. Just as Fermi tapped nuclear energy, which powers the sun, so has Winston’s invention harnessed solar energy to power technology.

“There’s an opportunity in the United States to produce a tremendous amount of thermal and electric energy from the sun,” Myles said. “At Solargenix we know that Dr. Winston’s inventions are going to enhance that capability and could lead to a revolution in new energy production.”
Last modified at 01:31 PM CST on Thursday, April 01, 2004.

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