Academic profile: Dr Robert Taylor
Describe the type of research you are currently engaged in.
My research is mostly in solar thermal technology development. We’re building new solar collectors and designing them from the ground up. Recently, we have been working on developing solar collectors specifically to generate high temperature heat for industrial applications. Probably our biggest project at the moment is our Micro Urban Solar Integrated Concentrators (MUSIC), which is funded by ARENA. I am also involved in a few side projects, such as building energy efficiency and biomedical technologies.
What would you say motivates you as a researcher?
I love working on new technologies to solve challenges in society, and energy is definitely one of the biggest ongoing challenges! I feel that through my research, I get to contribute to society and really do my part.
I’m also motivated by the freedom researchers have to explore some crazy new idea. Unlike working in the corporate world where the goal is to make money, research gives you the ability to think big, to look at different ideas and methods, and even, to fail. A failure in research still contributes to our knowledge and understanding, and can open further doors.
What are you most excited or passionate about?
I really love new and innovative solar energy technologies. Solar energy is a huge resource, especially for Australia. We have a lot of available land, combined with a great deal of sunshine and clear skies. If you divide the amount of solar energy we have by our population, Australia has more solar energy per capita than any other country. It’s a big opportunity that’s not being utilised. I think it’s awesome that engineers are the ones who get to push these technologies forward – to figure out how to collect and utilise our resources in a sustainable way.
How did you come to be involved in this type of research?
I’ve been in renewable energy for a long time, probably 15 years now. For even longer than that I’ve been drawn to engineering in general – it’s interesting work, and we have the opportunity to solve problems and continue to push modern society forward. I completed a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Missouri, during which I became particularly interested in energy. I came to the conclusion that the way we currently use energy is inefficient and that there are many ways to engineer new solutions. This lead me to an energy related Masters and eventually a PhD, so that I could help develop tomorrow’s renewable energy technology.
Any “Eureka” moments you can share with us?
I think my biggest “Eureka” moment was actually when I realised just how much solar energy is out there. There’s tens of thousands more solar energy available than our current energy demand, and I realised that I could help create the technology to get us there. Engineers are the enablers here.
I’m honestly not sure whether I figured this out at a single moment in time, or if it was a gradual realisation, but as soon as I figured it out, that was it for me.
What were you doing before you came to UNSW?
I came straight to UNSW from the USA, where I completed all my schooling. Following my undergraduate and Masters degrees at the University of Missouri, I completed an internship with The Solar Living Institute in California, and then a PhD at Arizona State. I had no doubts about coming to Australia. All of my interviews for UNSW were conducted online, so I came to UNSW sight unseen and haven’t looked back since.
Describe one of the projects that you are currently working on – who are you working with, have there been any outcomes or benefits as yet , etc.
As I mentioned earlier, MUSIC is our largest project at the moment. This project takes a completely new approach to collecting solar energy. It is developing innovative, thin and lightweight concentrating solar collector platforms (which ‘collect and concentrate’ the energy from sunlight) that deliver up to 400oC thermal energy and electricity from building roofs.
We’ve just got a patent for our newest collector, and our team won an Early Stage Innovation Award at the UNSW Innovation Awards 2014. This particular collector has been our focus for the last two years. It’s a really different concept for a solar collector in that it features an optical design which allows the collector to remain stationery. The optics involved both refract and reflect light from the sun with no external moving parts. The design is meant to fits with commercial and industrial rooftops, to deliver steam and heat at around 250oC.
For more information on Rob's research, publications and research group, visit his Research Gateway profile or www2.pv.unsw.edu.au/nsite-files/ResearchersWeb/RobTaylor/