National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Skysun, LLC, Bay Village, Ohio

PRODUCT: Solar Collector with a Ganged Heliostat Design

“The collaboration with NASA through the Adopt-a-City Program not only helped prove our product’s durability, but also contributed to our technology’s adoption. The NASA consultation demonstrated the method is sound, but just as important, the consultation put us on the map. NASA research findings provide validation that money just can’t buy.” –Jim Clair, Founder of Skysun

A ganged heliostat, according to Skysun founder Jim Clair, “is simply a device that aims many mirrors to reflect sunlight where it can be used to generate power.” The ganged heliostat technology developed by this clean-energy startup company was initially projected to reduce the costs of concentrating solar power (CSP) by over 30 percent. Skysun was already testing a subscale prototype when the company was selected to participate in Adopt-a-City in 2013.

 

CHALLENGE

Skysun needed to determine their prototype’s wind survivability. At issue was whether the structure would safely sway in the wind or begin oscillating, which could cause the company’s prototype to move in potentially damaging ways. “Wind survivability would need to be demonstrated before commercialization,” noted Clair.

 

NASA CONNECTION

Skysun was one of six companies selected to participate in the second iteration of Adopt-a-City, a joint effort of the NASA Glenn Research Center, the city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET). Adopt-a-City provided up to 40 hours of pro bono assistance from NASA experts to small and midsized manufacturers to help solve technical challenges with a new or existing product. The program also made low-interest loans available through the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Through Adopt-a-City, Skysun was matched with a team of NASA subject matter experts (SMEs) who would help the company tackle a significant technical challenge.

 

SOLUTION

NASA Glenn SME Dr. Dennis Huff created a vortex-shedding calculator that would allow Skysun to predict the susceptibility of their structures to wind-induced oscillation, and a team of Glenn SMEs led by Mike Krasowski installed sensitive accelerometers at Skysun’s testing site to measure characteristics of the ganged heliostat’s response to wind. Testing revealed that the prototype was unlikely to suffer damage in high wind conditions. Glenn SME Paul Bartolotta took a lead role in the project, advising the company on how to use the calculator with larger structures and discussing options to reduce wind- induced oscillation.

“The findings were extremely helpful to move Skysun’s technology toward commercialization,” reported Clair.

SUCCESS

Skysun used the NASA findings to begin developing wind-mitigating devices, including movement-damping methods to increase prototype accuracy in windy conditions. According to Clair, the NASA findings were critical in generating interest from researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in the United States as well as Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute, Europe’s largest institute for applied solar energy research. “I don’t believe Skysun could have gotten on ‘their radar’ without the Adopt-a-City collaboration,” Clair noted.

Skysun was awarded a $275,000 Department of Energy Small Business Voucher to accelerate development of the ganged heliostat, and an 18-month research program ensued, with findings generally positive for further development.

 

One job created and one part-time summer paid internship

Total funding to date: $330,000*

Approximately $130,000 has already benefited Northeast Ohio (e.g., using a local legal IP firm, a local illustrator, and local source materials and products when possible)

* $25,000 Innovation Fund Phase A grant, $275,000 DOE SMV grant, and $30,000 self-funded

 

 

Read more NASA Glenn Success Stories at https://www.grc.nasa.gov/regecondev/red-success/

For more information, contact GRC-RED@mail.nasa.gov