June 20, 2024

Purdue researchers harvest solar power at lower cost, minimal crop yield impact

Learn about agrivoltaic farming structures, software

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University researchers have improved upon traditional solar energy structures used in agrivoltaic farming.

These patent-pending structures and software optimize food production for farmers and maximize solar energy production.

By definition, agrivoltaic farming is a sustainable system that generates electricity from the sun while row crops like corn, rice, soybeans and wheat concurrently grow on the same land.

Farmland is already used to generate wind energy, but it has limiting factors, including wind availability, said Rakesh Agrawal, chemical engineering professor at Purdue.

“Sunlight is available at most locations where farming is done, and photovoltaics, or PV, can be deployed at a much larger scale,” Agrawal said.

“However, use of PV panels on agriculture farmland requires sharing solar photons between food and energy that must be carefully optimized.”

The new agrivoltaic structures use a dual, off-axis rotation system and sensors to optimize the amount of electricity generated and the amount of light that crops receive.

“The key idea is that when farm equipment needs to pass, the modules will rotate to form a near-vertical structure,” Tuinstra said. “At other times, the modules will track the sun as usual.”

The structures can be implemented for full-scale farming and use current farm equipment, said Muhammad Ashraful Alam, electrical and computer engineering professor at Purdue.

“The system is designed with row crops in mind like corn, soybeans, wheat and rice,” Alam said.

“The dimensions of these structures have been fine-tuned to allow sunlight, rain and shadows to reach plants as needed. They also withstand harsh weather conditions including heavy rain and strong wind.”

The next steps to bring these improved agrivoltaic structures to market include partnering with a solar energy developer.

“This is translational research,” Tuinstra said. “An industrial partnership or partnership with solar farm installation companies, preferably in Indiana, is the next step.”

Industry partners seeking to further develop the inventions should contact Will Buchanan, wdbuchanan@prf.org about 2020-AGRA-68784 and 2021-AGRA-69267.

Erica Quinlan

Erica Quinlan

Field Editor