Interview with PhD Student Dongil Lee

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Leading technology in the age of solar energy: Hybrid device for photovoltaic power generation and heating

The world has seen record-high temperatures, along with a rising trend in the concentration of greenhouse gases. Researchers are searching for new energy sources to address global warming, and solar energy has emerged as a possible solution. Dongil Lee, a PhD student and the CEO of Doitnow Co., Ltd., has enabled the efficient use of solar energy in everyday life.

“Be proactive and unafraid of failure when entering entrepreneurship. These are the two things you should never forget.”

Bringing ideas to life

Dongil Lee, a PhD student at KAIST’s Department of Aerospace Engineering, has successfully brought innovative ideas to life while working on his research topic: a hybrid device that combines photovoltaic power generation and heating. Together with Jiyoung Lee of the Department of Chemistry and Hyungjin Ahn of the Department of Aerospace Engineering, he launched a start-up company aimed at improving the efficiency of solar energy.

“With the solar energy market continuing to expand, I had a certainty that my research could have practical value. I recognized the potential of Solar-One, a hybrid device I had developed for photovoltaic power generation and heating. Launching a start-up was not a difficult decision to make.”

Surpassing limits to capture light and heat

Solar energy can be used both in the form of photovoltaic energy, and solar heat energy. Although solar energy is a sustainable source of energy, it has not been fully utilized due to expensive installation costs and limited efficiency. In solar heating, a fluid is heated using copper pipes affixed in parallel to copper plates. One disadvantage of this method is the occurrence of dead zones with weaker flow. At the same time, photovoltaic energy has lower electrical efficiency at higher surface temperatures when power is generated using solar cells. Dongil Lee’s Solar-One is a device that overcomes the aforementioned weaknesses and produces both electricity and heat at the same time. It also boasts a high efficiency which is at least 30% higher than existing devices.

“Consumers may feel burdened by the cost of installation because solar cells themselves are quite expensive. The issue that I was most concerned with was how to improve efficiency while appealing to consumers.”

The power to solve problems independently

Many students who possess innovative ideas and advanced techniques do not start their own companies, because they lack information on entrepreneurship. An entrepreneurial program teaches students how to solve problems on their own, and encourages them to push themselves further through entrepreneurship. From business modeling and market analysis to business proposal write-ups, these programs help to minimize failure by employing professional analysis and management by experts.

“The best feature of the entrepreneurial program is the opportunity to overcome challenges with others. With funding for development and other activities, I was able to launch my company in a more stable environment.”

Being proactive and unafraid of failure

Many people, even with the right ideas and technology, hesitate to launch start-ups out of a fear of failure. However, those who hesitate and pull back are guaranteed to have zero chance of success. Failure implies a better chance of success in the future. Using past failures as a stepping stone for learning and experience will bring potential entrepreneurs closer to success. Dongil Lee has already realized the key to entrepreneurial success, that is, the courage to embrace challenges despite the risk of failure.

“Be proactive and unafraid of failure when entering entrepreneurship. These are the two things you should never forget. Take the initiative to ask for help from others to minimize trial-and-error. If you have the courage to risk failure, you will eventually succeed.”

Living and not just existing

Many people join companies to perform standard roles, and rely on products and services that already exist. Entrepreneurship involves having a positive impact on the world. Dongil Lee is living life to the fullest and playing an active role in creating change.

I want to lead a real life, instead of simply existing. Through entrepreneurship, I get the sense that I am truly alive.”

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