By Kristen Mitchell
Hybrid solar power technology developed by George Washington University faculty to efficiently dry agricultural products like lumber and biochar has been licensed for exclusive commercial use by Englo, Inc., a West Virginia-based air handling business. This technology can help companies speed up drying time, recapture energy typically lost as heat and reduce their carbon footprint.
The innovation was developed by two faculty members from the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), Research Professor Richard C. Millar and professor Thomas Mazzuchi, in partnership with professors Todd Mlsna and Rubin Shmulsky from Mississippi State University.
"The solar hybrid dryer is a good example of promoting collaboration across disciplines," Millar said. "When this project started no one expected that this technology would reduce energy and greenhouse gases thereby preventing climate change and promoting a better world."
The research that led to the development of this technology spanned two summers and involved students from both GW and Mississippi State.
Lumber producers spend millions of dollars on energy to heat wood-drying kilns every year, according to the technology’s patent application. This solar hybrid kiln utilizes a novel solar energy collector previously used to preheat air for ventilation and crop drying. A solar air heater is used to redistribute and recirculate the thermal energy in the air, spreading heat throughout the kiln and reducing the need for natural gas or other energy sources.
Tim Warden, president of Englo, said he became connected with Millar and his research through the company’s work in the forest products industry. The company secured a one-year option to explore the solar hybrid dryer technology’s commercial viability in 2021 and has seen notable interest from potential users.
"This technology capitalized on Dr. Millar's experience in private industry and his knowledge of engineering to put together a product that is commercially viable," Warden said. "If we can increase productivity through their kilns using this technology, then it's going to be an industry sweep."
Millar’s industrial background in mechanical and aerospace engineering was crucial in analyzing the turbulence from the fan system and evaluating the solar wall technology. The chemistry department at Mississippi State tested the performance of the dryer using biochar.
Englo designed and installed its first rooftop solar hybrid kiln for InterFor, a large commercial company. The project was the first application of hybrid solar technology on wood-drying kilns. Each design and installation is custom, based on the roof area size and shape and needs of the company. After developing a product and securing the exclusive license for the solar kiln technology this spring, Englo is working with several additional users to design custom roof kilns.
The licensing agreement was facilitated by the GW Technology Commercialization Office (TCO), which promotes the transfer of technology developed at GW for the benefit of the university community and the public.
"The university does really top-quality research here, not just in terms of fundamental research, but also taking it from the lab bench and applying it to the real world for things that need solutions right now," said Michael Harpen, TCO licensing manager. "We're taking technologies developed here, and we're finding people who can take them and turn them into products that impact the lives of people around the world."
Members of the GW research community interested in discussing potential next steps of commercializing your innovation should contact the TCO for more information.
Faculty, staff, postdocs and students that are interested in programming on innovation, entrepreneurship and venture creation, and access to a network of entrepreneurs at GW and in the Mid-Atlantic startup community, should explore the resources provided by the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.