A startup company in Rolla is working on new solar technology in hopes of bringing more affordable solar energy to homes and businesses.

A startup company in Rolla is working on new solar technology in hopes of bringing more affordable solar energy to homes and businesses.

Missouri Sustainable Energy was started by Matt Bellue, co-founder, and Ben Cooper, lead engineer.

Both men moved from California to this area and started a project about five years ago to come up with a way to produce solar power in a cost-effective manner.

Through the HydroICE Solar Project (Hydro Internal Clean Engine) Bellue and Cooper have developed a conversion method that will allow a gasoline engine to generate electricity using only the power of the sun.

Bellue said solar power today is not cost-effective for most homes.

“The ability to generate electricity from solar energy has been around for decades, but it’s just too expensive for people to be able to latch onto as a primary way of providing electricity,” Bellue said, noting that in 2010, only 0.029 percent of the United States’ electricity was generated from solar energy.

“We knew there was a way to overcome this mountain of a problem, but nobody had figured it out yet. We wanted to find the answer,” he said.

Bellue said he believes the answer is a new device that he and Cooper developed and a method that could be patented.

While both Bellue and Cooper moved to be closer to their families here, Bellue said one benefit of starting the company in Rolla is having the support of Missouri University of Science and Technology.

In fact, Missouri Sustainable Energy is partnering with Missouri S&T and Missouri State University in Springfield (MSU) to test its device after Bellue and Cooper spent months in development and creating a prototype.

After presenting details of the project to the universities, both schools responded enthusiastically and agreed to work with the company to get the testing completed.

Bellue presented the prototype engine to Steve Watkins, electrical and computer engineering professor at Missouri S&T.

“At the end, there was a big smile on his face. It’s encouraging when they (people like Watkins) give you good feedback,” Bellue said, noting that Missouri S&T students in the electrical and mechanical department may help test the prototype through senior design projects.

“We need to iron out some things and make sure it’s as efficient as possible,” Bellue said. “There’s not a lot of reinvention.

Testing at Missouri S&T will involve determining how much power the system can output based on the energy input.

The engine will be connected to solar collectors, which will power the system. MSU will make prototypes of these collectors, Bellue said.

So just how does this solar technology work on a gasoline engine?

According to Bellue, thermal energy from the solar collectors will heat oil injected into the engine. Water also will be injected into the engine and when the water makes contact with the oil, it will produce steam and expand, moving a piston and turning the engine.

“Unlike solar panels, this engine uses waste heat coming off (the engine),” Bellue said. “It moves beyond electricity generation.”

Practical applications for such an engine would be to provide electricity to a house, farm or small business. In the future, this type of technology could be applied to vehicles, Bellue said.

The current cost of producing solar electricity for a home or business could be dropped by more than 75 percent with this technology, according to Bellue.

So far, Bellue and Cooper have financed the entire project out of their own pockets, but now, they need help financing the tests.

Currently, they are using a crowdfunding website, Indiegogo.com, in an attempt to raise $70,000 in 30 days. Their deadline is Dec. 15 and as of Thursday, they have raised just under $2,000 through the website. Bellue said the company also is seeking outside funding and grants to finance the tests.

For more information about the company and project, visit www.indiegogo.com/hydroice, http://hydroice.wordpress.com/ or www.facebook.com/hydroicesolar or email Bellue at hydroicesolar@gmail.com.