Dr. Yogi Goswami: How a Solar Energy Scientist Became a Clean Air Innovator

Dr. Yogi Goswami has spent over 20 years developing a revolutionary air purification technology for creating a healthy indoor environment. This in itself is groundbreaking. However, Dr. Goswami is also an acclaimed solar energy scientist. While he developed a new clean air technology, Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO), he also made huge strides in the field of clean energy—technology that can dramatically reduce outdoor air pollution. His work in both fields is closely aligned, allowing him to make significant and lasting contributions to air quality. Indoor air and outdoor air are intimately connected, as the air we breathe is one and the same.

“I set out on a mission for better air quality in our environment, knowing that change on a grand scale would require both a macro and micro approach. I believe that solar energy will lead the way for less air pollution in our cities and that clean air technology can remove indoor air pollution in our homes, schools, businesses, transportation, and beyond.”

From scientist to an inventor to a leader

How does a scientist become an inventor and eventually a leader? It is a rare path that few can say they have traveled. It is an accomplishment in itself that Dr. Goswami holds the position of Distinguished Professor and Director of the Clean Energy Research Center at the University of South Florida. He has also developed his scientific research into technology with real-world applications, becoming a successful inventor and holding 22 patents. Dr. Goswami was inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame in 2016.

Engineering and scientific achievements for the environment

His entire body of work has made him a visionary and leader. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In April 2018, he was granted the Joan Hodges Queneau Palladium Medal by the Audobon Society for his multiple international leadership roles in promoting and bringing clean, renewable energy forward. The award recognized his outstanding engineering and scientific achievements for environmental conservation.

Dr Yogi Goswami received the Joan Hodges Queneau Palladium Medal in 2018

Dr. Yogi Goswami received the Joan Hodges Queneau Palladium Medal presented by the National Audobon Society in 2018. The award is for his engineering achievement in environmental conservation.

A star in solar energy

His work in solar energy research has culminated in cutting-edge thermal energy storage applications—encapsulating salt in metal and ceramic balls, which will be used in large-scale solar power plants. Mammoet World Magazine writes about Dr. Goswami’s salt capsules: “Salt capsules the size of tennis balls could spark an energy revolution. The brainchild of Dr. Dharendra Yogi Goswami, this cost effective method could turn solar power into our most dominant form of energy.”

Dr. Yogi Goswami holding thermal salt balls in his laboratory at USF

Dr. Yogi Goswami holds a developing form of energy storage–encapsulated salt in metal and ceramic balls.

For a person to achieve the highest honors in solar energy research (including the Karl Böer Award for Solar Energy in 2016), and invent real-life applications of his research like PECO for air disinfection and energy storage solutions, demonstrates a rare body of achievement. Michael Klein, the executive director of the Karl Böer Solar Energy Medal of Merit Trust said in a public release that, “The award selection committee is very enthusiastic about its choice of Dr. Goswami, who is a distinguished scholar in and an important citizen of the clean energy community.”

He has published over 400 research articles and 22 books on clean energy, including Principles of Solar Engineering and Handbook of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which are helping educate students all over the world. Dr. Goswami is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Solar Energy Journal since 2001.

Clean Energy Policy leadership

He has used his expertise to become a leader in the field, giving testimonies before Congress about clean energy policy. When asked about the future of solar energy in 30 years, Dr. Goswami said in a Quora session:

“I foresee that solar energy will keep becoming a bigger part of our energy future. I have been giving presentations for the last 20 years predicting that renewable energy (solar, wind, biomass etc.) will provide at least 50% of all of our energy needs by 2050.”

Dr. Goswami has also provided leadership in solar energy policy across the world. He served as the President of the International Solar Energy Society (ISES) and the International Association for Solar Energy Education. In these positions, he met with the leaders of many countries and advised them about clean energy and environmental policies. His advice on solar energy policy to Mr. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, has led to the development of a very progressive policy and a goal of 200 GW of solar power in India by 2020.

A lifetime commitment to air quality

Dr. Goswami’s work is firmly grounded in engineering, science and research, and it is this solid foundation that has rooted his passion to develop new ideas and ways of solving problems. He developed a solar photocatalytic technology in the laboratory and was able to apply it to disinfect contaminated groundwater at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.

Dr. Goswami described it his way:

“This technology came about in combination with a photocatalysis technology I was working on for water purification. When I was searching for a way to purify the air, I realized that I could apply these principles from one field to the other.”

It was around this time that he felt compelled to develop a technology to disinfect the air, as his son Dilip Goswami suffered from severe asthma symptoms triggered by indoor air pollutants.

For the next 20 years, he began to work on a revolutionary technology, which eventually became PECO. The technology has been third-party tested (by Aerosol Research Engineering Laboratories and Intertek Labs) and shown to destroy indoor air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Dr. Goswami’s research findings regarding PECO have been published in scientific journals.

In 2014, Dr. Goswami, his son Dilip Goswami, and his daughter Jaya Rao decided to commercialize the PECO technology and co-found the science and technology company, Molekule. Dilip Goswami said in a 2017 Medium article, “Twenty-two years ago, my father started a scientific journey to free me from the triggers in the air that cause my symptoms. I’ve spent much of my adult life, first watching him, and later working with him to develop something to fundamentally change the way we think about air.”

The PECO technology is available in the form of the Molekule air purifier. His invention of the Molekule air purifier was awarded TIME magazine’s “Best Inventions of 2017.”

Yogi Goswami holding the new Molekule air purifier, standing alongside Jaya Rao and Lovely Goswami

From left to right: Jaya Rao, Dr. Yogi Goswami who holds the new Molekule air purifier, and Lovely Goswami

Clean air: A macro and micro approach

Ultimately, the outdoor air is intimately connected with the air inside. This is why Dr. Goswami’s work in clean energy to reduce fossil fuel pollution is a perfect match for his work developing an indoor air purification technology. Dr. Goswami said, “ Burning fossil fuels in cars and power plants is the biggest reason for air pollution. The pollutants include gaseous organic chemicals, microbes (viruses, bacteria etc.) and other allergens. These need to be removed from indoor air, to make it breathable. The conventional air cleaning devices are based on filters which cannot take care of all of these pollutants. That is the reason I developed the PECO technology.”

Dr. Goswami’s unique qualifications have led to new technologies that significantly improve air quality. His perseverance and hard work over four decades have led him to results that rarely come to fruition in one’s lifetime. It is his contributions to indoor air quality and clean energy technology that will impact air quality for generations to come. As Molekule’s Co-founder and Chief Science & Technology Advisor, he will continue to guide the company with his scientific expertise. His son Dilip Goswami, CEO of Molekule, said: “In ten years, Molekule won’t just be a consumer company–we’ll be in public spaces, in planes, in cars and come up with new scientific achievements.”

Dr. Goswami was asked this question during his Science Reddit AMA two years ago: “My question isn’t so much about solar energy as it is about how you maintain your position as a professor, director of a major research center, and chief editor of a major academic journal (among other things), while still maintaining any semblance of “life” outside academia. How do you balance all of these competing demands?”

Dr. Goswami answered:

“I pursue all of these things because this is my life and my passion. My advice to you is to follow your passion wherever it takes you.”

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