Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
Faculty Advisor: Paul Rumbach
Winter 2020-21 Project: Integrating Photovoltaic Infrastructure and Agriculture
The use of renewable energy has accelerated the effects of climate change. Countries have developed programs to expedite the creation and implementation of renewable energy into the grid system. However, in an ironic attempt to save the world, many corporations often ignore the impact on the natural ecosystem. The construction of solar farms can be a source of renewable energy, however the location is essential to the positive environmental effect it could have. For example, during the construction of the Ivanpah solar farm in the Mojave desert, the number of desert tortoises that would be displaced were greatly underestimated. The same solar farm also came under scrutiny when there was a sharp increase in bird death directly correlated to the construction of the solar farm. The purpose of this research is to develop a way to effectively integrate solar cells and farms so that we can effectively mine solar energy with little to no damage to the natural environment.
The idea is to install semi-transparent solar panels at a suitable height above a crop, giving space for plants to grow underneath, while also using a plant-microbial fuel cell to harness electron waste-products of photosynthesis to generate electricity. The objective of this research is to simultaneously address global demand for food and sustainable energy, and integrate the natural environments with energy-collection systems to minimize land usage, making these two sectors complementary rather than competitive.