About the James S. Markiewicz Solar Energy Research Facility

The James S. Markiewicz Solar Energy Research Facility will be used to investigate processes capable of using sunlight to produce solar fuels and valuable industrial commodities. The 2,000-square-foot facility is adjacent to the Gellersen Center, home to the College of Engineering. The solar facility will bring faculty and undergraduate students together to develop solutions to the pressing international problem of developing viable renewable energy sources. The Markiewicz Solar Energy Research Facility will link quality teaching to quality research.

How it Works

The solar furnace consists of six main parts, which are depicted below.Solar Research Facility How it Works Illustration


The 20-foot-by-20-foot flat mirror, called the heliostat, sits in front of the furnace building and tracks the sun, directing the light into the concentrator. The concentrator at the Markiewicz Solar Energy Research Facility is composed of 306 curved mirrors. 

A set of louvers stands between the heliostat and the concentrator, regulating how much light reaches the concentrator. The concentrator focuses the light as does a magnifying glass. A solar thermal reactor is located at the focal point of the concentrated light. The solar furnace is capable of generating temperatures in excess of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit within the reactor.

Endless Research Possibilities

The extremely high temperatures in the reactor enables a wide range of chemical reactions and therefore opens the door to a wide range of research. Valpo faculty and students will become active participants in the international effort of developing the science and engineering technology required to produce solar fuels from sunlight. 

Two areas that Valparaiso students and faculty are researching:

  • Converting water into the fuel hydrogen – solar thermal decoupled water electrolysis project being conducted in conjunction with Sandia National Laboratory.
  • Splitting zinc oxide into zinc and oxygen, without producing any waste. Zinc can be used in a fuel cell to generate electricity or as a commodity.