Solar Energy

Cleanfield Energy, The LaPierre Research Group at McMaster, and the Ontario Centres of Excellence have recently entered into a three-year partnership to develop nanowire solar cells.

The LaPierre Research Group is actively seeking students at both the Master’s, Ph.D., and post doctoral levels to develop semiconductor nanowires for photovoltaics. This project combines the fields of nanotechnology, photonics, and energy technologies in an exciting research program. In collaboration with industry, the candidate will be involved in the fabrication and testing of semiconductor nanowires for the next generation of photovoltaic devices.  Candidates should have an undergraduate degree in Physics, Engineering Physics, or a related discipline.  Please direct inquiries to Dr. LaPierre:

Scanning electron microscopy image (18000 times magnification) of GaAs nanowires grown by Dr. LaPierre’s group at McMaster for solar cell devices

Wind Energy

Wind Energy is the fastest growing renewable energy source in Canada. In 2006, installed wind capacity exceeded 1,000 MW making Canada the 12th argest country in wind energy. Today in Canada, wind turbines of the traditional horizontal axis type are placed on high towers generally located in wind “farms” in rural and on-water settings.  In cities wind turbines located on the roofs of buildings would greatly increase the potential for wind energy generation and bring the resulting electricity supply closer to consumers. Vertical Axis Wind Turbines appear to be much better suited to the gusty and changeable winds of the urban environmen t than horizontal axis turbines.

The objective of the research at McMaster is to facilitate the deployment of these small turbines through significant improvements to their noise and vibration performance at low cost. This technical development is being performed in conjunction with industry and lays the foundation for increased participation of domestic industries in the rapidly growing renewable energy business.

McMaster partnered with Cleanfield Energy Corp. and the Ontario Centres of Excellence to test an innovative 2.5kW modular Vertical-Axis Wind Turbine. This turbine is designed to allow individual homes and businesses to generate their own power, offsetting the cost of meeting electrical needs.

Graduate students inspecting a vertical axis wind turbine undergoing testing.

Nuclear Energy

As a result of recent decisions, Nuclear Power will play an important role in electricity generation in Canada for decades into the future. Current research is focussed on the estimation of the safety margins for the operation of nuclear power plants. Safe operation is the sine qua non of nuclear operations but overly conservative safety margins reduce the power output of the plants thus increasing their costs. Key to this issue is the interplay between the nuclear aspects (neutronics) and the heat transport characteristics (thermalhydraulics) of the reactor. Each of these research areas is studied both individually and also in terms of their mutual interaction.  The complexity is further multiplied by chronic effects like system aging or acute affects such as accidents.

The nuclear group addresses unresolved issues related to nuclear power; in particular, aspects of the political, economic and environmental implications of its use. Issues such as nuclear fuel cycles as related to the issue of the wastes from nuclear systems, the role of nuclear plants in the changing electricity grid structure, nuclear energy’s role in the production of hydrogen and nuclear weapons proliferation are investigated.

McMaster Nuclear Reactor

Fuel Cells

The Fuel Cell research forms an integrating bridge between the solar and wind energy technologies because these energy sources are inherently intermittent and require either energy storage or back-up systems in order to function as reliable providers of electricity to the grid. For example, while the wind is blowing electricity from wind turbine could be used to produce hydrogen by electrolysis which is then stored and “burned” at a uniform rate in a fuel cell to supply a constant level of power to the grid. The role that Solid Oxide Fuel Cells for static applications can play in such systems is investigated and also the improvement of PEM fuel cells for mobile applications – the necessary link to hydrogen fuels for transportation applications.

Research includes development of electrodes, interconnects and seals for solid oxide fuel cells, and characterization of fuel cell performance. Nanostructured materials for energy storage and generation are also studied.

Versa Power fuel cell system for residential and remote applications operates at 700-800°C