Assistant Professor in Physics and Engineering Physics
Matthew Escarra is an assistant professor in Physics and Engineering Physics at Tulane University. He received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Princeton University in 2011, where he made advances in the performance of quantum cascade lasers and mid-infrared metamaterials. He also received a certificate in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy while at Princeton. He went on to complete postdoctoral training at the California Institute of Technology in Applied Physics and Materials Science, where he developed new approaches to high efficiency solar energy conversion. He also has worked with two start-up companies, Daylight Solutions and Sentinel Photonics, and larger companies such as Shell and Dow Chemical. Matthew’s undergraduate studies were in electrical engineering at Rice University. His current research interests include low-loss and tunable photonic metasurfaces, optoelectronics from two-dimensional semiconductors, and solar energy harvesting utilizing the full solar spectrum.
Fully Utilizing the Solar Resource – Hybrid Solar Systems for Process Heat and Electricity
Within the United States, process heat makes up 38% of total energy demand, including a wide range of applications from commercial space heating, to sterilization for food processing, chemical and metal refining, enhanced oil recovery, and more. The demand for thermal processing is approximately double that of electrical demand nationwide. Despite this substantially larger demand for thermal energy, the renewable energy sector has largely focused on electricity production. Furthermore, conventional photovoltaic solar energy harvesting does a poor job of utilizing the full solar spectrum, resulting in relatively low conversion efficiency. In response to these opportunities, our team at Tulane (with partners in California) is building a hybrid solar energy converter that uses the entire solar spectrum more efficiently to generate both electricity and thermal energy. The thermal energy can be delivered at a temperature as high as 590°C, depending on the application. We are currently prototyping and testing our system. Techno-economic analysis shows that in many locations with relatively high solar irradiance, high electricity costs, and high natural gas costs, such as the desert southwestern U.S. and other regions around the world, our hybrid system will produce thermal energy at a cheaper cost than natural gas.