Channeling Sunlight to Create Indoor Lighting Energy Sources | Information Center
Mechanical engineer Sung-Yong (Sean) Park is the latest from SDSU to receive an NSF CAREER grant for his work on sustainable energy.
As the largest source of energy consumption in the United States, commercial buildings need an environmentally friendly alternative. It’s there that Sung-Yong Park (Sean)searches are coming.
A professor of mechanical engineering at the College of Engineering, Park studies the intersection of light and fluid behavior through small channels for energy systems, called optofluidics, that enable technologies such as solar power. The scope of his current research focuses on creating sustainable energy sources, such as solar-powered indoor lighting.
Last spring, Park received a very selective award National Science Foundation Career Award to continue his work. CAREER grantees are early-career faculty members selected for their potential as academic role models in research and education and for leading advances in their institution’s mission.
Park, who runs the Bio and energy optofluidic systems (OBES) on campus, is the third recipient of the College of Engineering’s CAREER award this year, along with electrical and computer engineer Junfei Xie and construction engineer Reza Akhavian.
“We are thrilled to support the creative work of Sean Park in the scientifically and technologically important area of optofluidic illumination research,” said Eugene Olevsky, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering. “Our college is rapidly developing its research activities. Nearly 60% of our professors are new research-oriented professors who have been hired within the last six years.
Park’s CAREER grant provides $500,000 in funding over five years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a new approach to optofluidic lighting that uses rooftop solar energy and excess sunlight to illuminate inside commercial buildings.
This will allow active control of lighting brightness and power, regardless of the current sun strength, Park said. “As society has grown, electric lighting has quickly become one-third of building energy consumption, so why not use sunlight – especially in California where the sun is very loud – for interior lighting?”
While solar-powered lighting isn’t new, the current model of solar-powered indoor lighting involves many unnecessary conversions, Park said. “The solar cell method turns sunlight into electricity, and then the electricity can be converted into lighting. There are so many conversions that ultimately only 4% of natural sunlight can be used.
Park’s optofluidic method allows more sunlight to be used directly for indoor buildings and for the user to control the brightness level and power status of the lighting.
With the building sector accounting for more than 70% of all electricity consumption in the United States and 40% of total energy consumption in the United States, the solar-powered lighting initiative will support the NSF to have a positive societal impact and solve energy problems due to the need for more sustainable and environmentally friendly buildings.
Along with the positive psychological benefits of lighting that fascinate Park, such as increased productivity and increased mood and energy levels, he said the funding will enable the project to be a light, no pun intended, for the community. NSF funding will also enable positive local impact through outreach activities that will be conducted with the aim of promoting the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM disciplines.
The next steps in Park’s optofluidic method include the future use of optofluidic lighting for indoor solar activities and underground structures, such as subways and underground tunnels, and even indoor agriculture.
Long before electricity, societies relied on natural sunlight to provide interior lighting. Since then, we have relied on electrically-intensive indoor light sources to illuminate our workplaces and homes, while sunlight remains just as useful and bright.
This begs the question: can we channel this sunlight to reduce global energy consumption? Park will find out.