In this month’s Energy & Sustainability Connections newsletter, we are excited to feature AeroShield, a Cambridge-based technology company that is transforming the window industry by developing super-insulating, transparent inserts for windows that bring state-of-the-art thermal comfort and energy savings into buildings at an affordable price.
It turns out that the same material AeroShield uses to insulate windows can also improve the performance of solar thermal receivers. AeroShield is among the 10 teams that have been selected to advance as finalists in Round 4 of the American-Made Solar Prize, a $3 million competition intended to energize U.S. solar manufacturing, as announced by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The innovative piece of technology that AeroShield submitted for this competition is a flat-plate solar-thermal energy collector system that operates at temperatures above 120 degrees Celsius with efficiencies exceeding 60%. AeroShield incorporated transparent aerogel insulation into this energy collector system to achieve a high level of performance while minimizing heat loss, simplifying the receiver design and reducing costs.
Competitors in the American-Made Solar Prize include professors, small-business owners, company staffers, entrepreneurial students, and researchers at national laboratories — all of whom must submit potentially marketable solar technology solutions in order to enter the competition. According to the Department, this challenge requires competitors to “make progress on a condensed timeline, form private-sector partnerships, and secure investments to make their ideas a reality.”
During the first phase of the competition in October 2020, teams pitched their inventions by explaining the technologies involved, the need that each innovation fills within the broader solar industry, as well as each innovation’s downstream marketability prospects. AeroShield was selected as one of 20 semifinalists, receiving $50,000. During the second round, the Department asked each team to produce design, proof of concept, and early-stage prototypes. At the culmination of the second round in April of this year, the Department announced 10 finalists from across the country — including AeroShield — during a virtual ceremony. Each finalist received $75,000 worth of vouchers redeemable at the National Laboratories and other partner facilities, as well as $100,000 in cash.
Aaron Baskerville-Bridges, Co-Founder and VP of Operations at AeroShield, stated of this award, “Being a finalist in the American-Made Solar Prize has allowed AeroShield to rapidly advance our material development and commercial strategy for solar thermal. We’ve been able to connect to industry leaders across the US and globally, work with technical experts from Sandia National Labs and Thermavant, and build prototypes with our collaborators Etajoule. This wouldn’t have been possible without the funding and network we gained through this competition. AeroShield is incredibly excited about the possibility that solar thermal provides in decarbonizing the industrial sector by reducing the $40B spent on natural gas for low-temperature process heat.”
Phase 3 of the competition is currently ongoing. AeroShield must further demonstrate the efficacy of its prototype, develop commercial relationships, and solidify its business model. In August 2021, AeroShield will submit its final results, and two winners (out of the remaining 10 teams) will win $500,000.
Readers can watch AeroShield’s winning pitch here.