Ian Stewart is currently an undergraduate student studying Physics. He is an intern at the Rutgers Energy Institute for the summer of 2014, working with Professor Sunil Somalwar of the Physics Department on solar water heaters and dehumidifiers.
1. Please describe your research in a way that would be understandable to someone without any scientific or technical background. My research focuses on thermal solar collectors, which convert the sun’s light energy into useful heat energy. Instead of creating electricity from solar radiation like the more familiar photovoltaics, a fluid or gas is heated by a thermal collector exposed to sunlight. The collectors have been widely used in countries such as China, India, Australia, and Israel in solar water heaters, which significantly reduce both electrical bills and energy consumption. They have also been used to drive dehumidifier and desalination systems in areas where sunlight is abundant. The study I conducted investigated the feasibility of a hybrid solar water heater-dehumidifier system, which used a solar collector to both heat water and power a liquid desiccant dehumidifier.
2. How did you come to be involved in this research? I met my advisor, Professor Somalwar, through a classical mechanics course that he was teaching and we eventually collaborated on the design and implementation of the project
3. Where do you see your research fitting into our energy future? Solar water heaters and more complex systems that utilize solar collectors can reduce green house gas emissions and lower energy bills by providing an alternative to conventional gas and electric water heaters. Additionally, solar dehumidifier systems can cut energy demands required to run expensive air conditioning units. This research into a hybrid system hopes to merge the benefits of both solar water heaters and dehumidifiers to provide a workable domestic unit that could provide a greater incentive for the public to use these renewable technologies