Interviews - August 4, 2022

August's Expert of the Month: Dr. Namrata Salunke!

Written by Sofia Iorio 3 min read

Each month we recognise the efforts of one of our Solar Impulse Experts. The Experts play a vital role in the process of awarding Solutions the Solar Impulse Efficient Solution Label. Experts assess Solutions based on their technical feasibility, environmental impact, and financial profitability and make a judgment on their suitability for the Label. The Expert Community is made up of over 360 Experts from across the world, bringing expertise from a diverse range of fields including science, engineering, research, industry, business and much more.

August's Expert of the Month: Dr. Namrata Salunke!

Namrata joined the Foundation in June 2020 and successfully assessed 18 Solutions. She stood out for her analytical skills, and we are please to share this short interview about her past and current achievements.

Please tell us a little about yourself!

I grew up in India and completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Chemical Engineering. An undergrad internship experience sparked my interest in research which led me to apply to doctoral programs in the US. I earned my PhD in Polymer Engineering in 2018 and am currently based in California.

Would you tell us more about your area of expertise and profession?

As a Polymer Engineer I am constantly working on advanced material development - either material development for new products, or high performing replacements to current materials. My expertise involves material performance and process optimization, recycling, life cycle and reliability assessments. Sustainability is a key goal of my work.

How did you develop your interest for sustainability-related topics?

Growing up in a developing country, it was not possible to ignore the realities of changing climate, pollution, and lack of sustainability initiatives in the private and public sectors. Reading well-researched and peer-reviewed articles gave me a better understanding of climate change and the importance of sustainability and a circular economy. My first job in Eaton’s Corporate R&D gave me the opportunity to make a difference, and there has been no looking back since.

You are currently working as a Staff Engineer for modules research and development at SunPower, an industry leader in solar solutions. What are the most fascinating aspects of your job? And what about the biggest challenges?

It’s great to work in Solar research at this time when transition to renewable energy is critical. My work primarily involves identifying and developing module materials which can bring access to solar where traditional photovoltaic (PV) modules may not be feasible - such as lightweight PVs for load limited roofing. I also focus on material development to increase the module efficiency as well as lifetime - which are major contributors towards making renewable energy sustainable. 

The biggest challenges include identifying and developing polymers for PVs which can reliably work as intended during the solar panel’s 25 year lifetime, and continue to push it further to 30 or 40+ years. A second big challenge is to develop reliability testing methodologies to estimate PV module lifetime, while also adapting the tests to extreme weather events such as rising temperatures and extreme hail storms.

How did you find out about the Solar Impulse Foundation? What brought you to volunteer for the Expert Community?

As a Science and Sustainability advocate, I try to contribute towards these goals at every opportunity - and this aligned well with Solar Impulse Foundation’s goals. I started volunteering for SIF around the same time I started working at SunPower. It was an incredibly pleasant surprise to find out that the Solar Impulse plane used SunPower’s Maxeon solar cells.

You joined the Expert Community in June 2020 and you have completed 18 Assessments! What kinds of Solutions have you assessed, and which stand out as the most impactful?

All the solutions stand out and contribute towards sustainability in their own unique way. Some impressive solutions were focused on repurposing waste in a responsible way while generating economical value.The ones that blew me away were the solutions that fundamentally improved the mainstream solutions to minimize or completely eliminate their bottlenecks and still be “drag and drop” solutions compatible with mainstream operations.

Anything else you would like to share?

There is no single global solution to sustainability. Often individual solutions at smaller scales may work together to make a noticeable impact on a large scale. It is incredibly encouraging to see the sheer number of innovative solutions that SIF is bringing together in one place. I am optimistic that this will accelerate us towards our sustainability goal.

Interested in becoming an Expert with the Solar Impulse Foundation? Find out more here.

Written by Sofia Iorio on August 4, 2022

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