By Graig Graziosi
Youngstown State University can boast a second patent winning faculty member.
Ganesh Kudav, professor of mechanical engineering, was awarded a federal patent for designing a new support device for solar panels. Yogendra Panta, a former professor of mechanical engineering at YSU, was also included in the patent.
Kudav’s invention acts as a wind deflector to better protect solar panels on flat roofs. Typically, solar panels are weighed down by heavy supports called ballasts, which can be expensive and potentially prove too heavy for roofs with lower weight capacities.
The research for the deflectors began in 2009 after Kudav was approached by a local business asking for ways to better protect flat roof-mounted solar panels.
“Northern States Metals — based in Austintown — approached us to find ways to reduce the aerodynamic forces on roof-mounted solar panels that could potentially cause the panels to dislodge and get blown off from the flat roof in very windy conditions … This led us to conceptualize the design of wind deflectors that would deflect the winds away from the solar panels,” Kudav said. “The wind deflectors we invented with their uniquely contoured surface — when placed strategically around the arrays of solar panels — have been shown to significantly reduce the aerodynamic forces.”
Essentially, rather than using heavy ballasts to weigh down the panels, Kudav’s design redirects high winds away from the panels.
Kudav was joined by Panta as well as a small team of student assistants during the development of the deflectors.
“We hired two student assistants from August 2009 to May 2010 — undergraduate student Mark Harvey and graduate student Michael Yatsco — to assist us in running computer simulation programs and setting up wind tunnel experiments,” Kudav said.
Gregg Sturrus, interim dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, emphasized the importance of student participation in the research process.
“At least in the patents we have so far, there’s a lot of student involvement … the students get to do the testing and the background work for the ideas the faculty have,” Sturrus said.
This is the second patent in less than a year for YSU, with Tom Oder, professor of physics, winning a patent in 2014 for an invention that improves the performance of semiconductors.
For Interim Provost Martin Abraham, YSU achieving patents is a tangible sign of things to come.
“[YSU’s patent winning projects] just demonstrates the success we continue to have in our research and proves why it’s important for us to focus in that area. We’re pleased to see it develop,” Abraham said. “Most of the research activity we’re seeing awards for now began five or six years ago, so the research we’ve continued to do since then is going to continue to generate more patent activity and more opportunities over the next several years. This is not going to be our last patent.”
Kudav’s may be fulfilling Abraham’s predictions as his current research continues to focus on improving solar panel technology, this time focusing on energy conversion efficiency issues due to high temperatures. In other words, ensuring that when the panels get very hot — which they will — their ability to produce energy isn’t drastically cut due to the temperatures.
“I am exploring ways to increase the energy conversion efficiency of solar panels by cooling the panels so their surface temperature does not exceed 130 degrees. Hot, sunny days can raise the surface temperature to 165 degrees, reducing the efficiency of the panels … by as much as 50 percent,” Kudav said. “Preliminary research I conducted with the assistance of a graduate student … led to the conclusion that active cooling of solar panels is the most effective means to control the surface temperature.” Kudav said.
The patent for the deflectors was awarded earlier this spring and served as the culmination of a seven year research and development process for Kudav and his team.
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