Final Report: Building Integrated Solar Thermal Electric Generation (BISTEG)

EPA Grant Number: SU835686
Title: Building Integrated Solar Thermal Electric Generation (BISTEG)
Investigators: Vortherms, Kaitlin , Thomas, John E , Slyke, Shea Van , Cano, Alex , Hendrix, Alyson , Stauffer, Jason , McBurnett, Lauren , Snell, Marcus , Lopez, Marisa , Smith, Maxwell , Seager, Thomas , Micevic, Vid
Institution: Arizona State University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2014 through August 14, 2015
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Air Quality , P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities


This project investigates a new device for generating electricity from the heat energy of sunlight (rather than light energy) to overcome aesthetic obstacles that limit deployment of solar cells on exterior building walls. The student team has built several experimental prototypes and established: 1) the solar/thermal conditions under which the technology generates electricity, 2) hypothetical power potential and cost targets, and 3) the relative effectiveness of different thermoelectric materials. The resulting technology produces clean and beautiful electricity, thus contributing to P3 objectives. Additionally, this project contributes to the education of a diverse team of students participating directly in the research and in a related seminar course titled Clean Technology Entrepreneurship at ASU. Members of the class have participated in several entrepreneurial competitions and training programs. The team emphasizes the participation of women and Hispanics -- groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering and entrepreneurship. Phase II funding is required to optimize materials, configurations, build a demonstration wall and reduce costs.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

Existing options for integration of solar energy into sustainable buildings are limited to roofmounted photovoltaics or passive solar heating (e.g., advanced fenestration). While many buildings in built-up areas have south-facing exterior walls, for aesthetic and maintenance reasons, photovoltaics are unsuitable for installation on these vertical building facades. This project has developed a novel Building Integrated Solar Thermal Electric Generation (BISTEG) technology that exploits the thermal energy, rather than light energy, of the sun, thereby overcoming the specific wavelength absorption limitations that reduce the efficiency of photovoltaic devices.  The technology can be incorporated into conventional building materials such as glass block, while allowing a myriad of aesthetic choices including colors, signage, or building art.      


BISTEG supports the principles of sustainable development characteristic of the P3 program. It creates a clean electricity technology that will displace older, more polluting technologies (such as coal or other fossil fuels) with renewable resources, thereby enhancing the planet. With regard to people, it creates an aesthetic opportunity for public works of art that build and restore a sense of community or celebrate a shared cultural heritage. With regard to prosperity, we expect the technology to ultimately reduce building costs, create new start-up businesses and contribute to the economic revitalization of blank building surfaces that otherwise blight the built environment.

         During Phase I, a team of ASU students from engineering, business, construction, and sustainability built several prototypes of the proposed technology and successfully obtained electricity from sunlight, achieving single module open-circuit voltages a high as 1.4V at a temperature differential of 90oC. Additional prototypes are expected to improve further on this performance, as well as measure power yields.  Also, this project has contributed to the education of students enrolled in a new one credit undergraduate course called Clean Technology

Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Engineers taught by the PI twice during the project period. This project-based course imparts a foundational understanding of clean technologies research and development.  Participating students form a business, develop an original product, write funding proposals, perform market research, pitch to potential investors, and file invention disclosures and review provisional patent applications procedures. A total of ten students have participated, namely: Alexander Arveson, Alex Cano, David Passos Barbosa Dias, Alicia Guccione, Vid Micevic, Aguila Silva Santos, Malumara Ferreira Silva, Marcus Snell, and Neil Tugaoen.  Several of these students have advanced from the undergraduate course to direct engagement with the USEPA P3 Competition.   


Phase I activities have proven the viability of the original concept of solar thermal electric generation and contributed to the education and training of a diverse workforce in engineering, business, sustainability and construction. 

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 2 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Solar energy, renewable energy, solar thermal electricity, industrial ecology, green building, sustainable infrastructure, design for environment