Dr Katie Shanks
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
+44 (0) 1326 259467
Environment and Sustainability Institute ESI 01.25
Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK
Office hours: Reachable by email during: 9:00am-5:00pm Monday-Friday
Reachable by email during: 9:00am-5:00pm Monday-Friday
I am a research fellow in the Environment and Sustainability Insittitue (ESI) at the Unviersity of Exeter Penryn Campus. My expertise lies in optics but encompases many contributing fields surrounding solar concentrator technology. This includes materials, surface structures, manufacturing methods, solar tracking, thermal managment, photovoltaic performances and biomimicry. I am happy to talk about any of my work, assist or collaborate on any projects no matter the background discipline. One of my key interests is developing intedisciplianry research, the methodologies, procedures for initiation and management as well.
I have been awarded a 3-year fellowship from EPSRC under the David-Clarke scheme. My research will be investigating optical nanostructures within nature, such as the cabbage white and glass wing butterfly wing scales (to begin with) for incorporation into new ultra-compact and lightweight solar panel technologies that can be integrated into various smart structures (laptops, phone, smart cars, smart buildings).
My PhD was specifically on: novel optical designs and materials. I like to take advantage of opportunities to travel, work in different environments and in general get involved in new projects. I have volunteered for various activities including organizing interdisciplianry workshops and postdoctoral conferences at the University of Exeter as well as various outreach events (science in the pub, school science days, royal cornwall show). I have spent 3 months in Spain carrying out research and working with academics at the University of Jaen testing and developing PV prototypes and similarly spent 4 months in India carrying out durability and temperature tests. More recently I was awarded the SPIE Woman in Engineering funding to visit and collaborate at the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia for a month. This has lead to ongoing work on beamsteering optics, nanofluids and perovskite solar cell research.
EPSRC Fellowship: "Invisible" Solar Technologies from bio-inspired Optics. start date: 01/01/2022.
PhD in Renewable Energy at Unviersity of Exeter (July 2013 - Febuary 2017)
PhD title: Identification and Development of Novel Optics for Concentrator Photovoltaic Applications
First degree Mphys in Energy Science and Technology at Heriot-Watt University (2008-2013)
I have a number of ongoing collaborations and side projects which i am interested in developing further. These include:
- Structured optics (nano-macro size and including anti-reflective and beam-steering effects)
- Biomimicry of natural structures (mainly for multi-functional lightweight optical devices but also to develop understanding of the natural structures in question)
- Luminescent and flourscent materials as optics
- 3D printing optics and their support structures
- Solar powered vehicles, including automated drones.
- Ultrahigh concentration
- Nanofluid optical effects within CPVT systems
- Developing interdisciplinary practices.
I am also a board member for Art and Energy, a project lead by Chloe Udon developing solar panel artwork and engaging with communities, schools and the public in general to understand and alter peoples perceptions of solar energy and science research in general.
I advise and collaborate with Upcycled Glass Company (UGC), founded and led by Ian Hanky, a glass crafter and artist. The Upcycled Glass Company work with SUEZ to take waste Glass materials to melt down and remake into a variety of applications, currently including: 1. new glass artworks, 2. raw material for other glass artists and 3. novel prototype glass optics for solar concentrators (where i come in). UGC fills the gap needed for a circular economy surrounding optics and energy. This project is still in early stages but the plan to to create novel concentrator optics from recycled glass to make less resource intensive solar energy technology. Upcycled Glass - Sustainable Art Glass in Devon (upcycled-glass.co.uk)
1. EPSRC Fellowship: "Invisible" Solar Technologies from Bio-Inspired Optics.
Start date: 01/01/2022.
What can a solar engineer learn from Butterflies?
Known for their beautiful wing patterns, butterflies, like all things within nature, are actually highly optimised systems tweaked over billions of years through evolution. –Which firstly, makes them excellent partners to cheat from.
One particular butterfly for example, the cabbage white, has developed a unique way of quickly warming its flight muscles in the morning. It can be found holding its white wings in a V-shape, which, originally puzzled scientists, but now, has been identified as a form of solar concentration.
Solar concentrators are simply things like magnifying lenses or concave mirrors that focus sunlight onto a reduced area of photovoltaic (solar sensitive) material. This is similar to the sunbathing mirrors you may have seen in films and TV shows where people use them to increase the sun on their face and neck. These optics can reduce the costs of solar panels and even increase the efficiency; but integrating optics into new forms of solar panels produces heavy and bulky designs.
The butterfly’s wings are however the perfect solar concentrator; extremely lightweight and optimised for all weather conditions. Through my biomimicry (copying nature) research at the University of Exeter I have analysed the fascinating nanostructures responsible for the cabbage white’s highly reflective, lightweight and surprisingly durable wings. Initial testing has shown copying these nanostructures could improve the power to weight ratio of current solar panel technology by as much as 17 times! My research delves into a variety of nano-fabrication techniques to develop a method to make enhanced solar technology that can be easily integrated into everyday structures such as smart cars, smart phones and of course smart buildings. All of which are absolutely essential as we speed up our progress towards a sustainable carbon neutral future.
2. ERDF-ESIF, Energy Indpendent Farming: I am currently working on a project which focuses on developing energy independent farms within Cornwall. This involves recording energy demand on our test farm site and the available renewable energy (wind, solar and biomass) and modelling optimum configurations of supply and demand for different scenarios (maximum energy demands, winter conditions, summer conditions, maximum bio-fuel yield).
2.1 Supergen Seedcorn Funding: Feasibility study of coupling solar concentrators with photocatalytic technology for biomass photo-reforming to hydrogen and sustainable energy fuels: As we progress towards a more sustainable network of energy we are faced with the increasing challenge of balancing renewable energy intermittences with energy storage to supply varying power demands. Currently, we still lack direct integration between renewable energy generation and energy storage to truly reduce the strain on the current grid system. Hence, this research investigates the feasibility of coupling solar energy concentration with biomass photo-reforming to sustainable energy fuels (incl. hydrogen). Photocatalysis is a light driven chemical process which generates powerful radical species that are capable of reforming biomass to desirable products via oxidation and reduction reactions. The impact of photons, specifically light intensity, is a key factor at the forefront of the transition between academic research and industry for this field. It is vital to investigate how intensifying incident light can impact the rate at which a reactions occurs. Such an integrated process could provide instantaneous and storable energy on site simultaneously and be blended into current biomass processing systems. This is completely novel research and the characteristics of such a system requires preliminary investigations to determine feasibility. If promising, the methods could be fed into the pioneering work by Bennamann, who are currently leading the ERDF funded project: Energy Independent Farming.
3.INNOVATE UK-CHINA: E-IPB Project.
Developing solar concentator windows for the UK and China climates. This included working closely with industrial partners such as: Yorkshire Photonics, Brinell Vision, Evoenergy and Couch Perry Wilkes. Strong links are still maintained with Yorkshrie Photonics and Brinell Vision for their optical expertise and potential future projects are under application. This work focused on developing plastic optics which fit within standard double glazed windows producing electricity, some thermal heating and useful lighting and insulation to the rooms they were installed in.
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