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18Jan2012

CSP industry should turn to biomimicry says MIT researchers

A team of researchers have discovered that if the mirrors or heliostats of a concentrating solar power (CSP) tower plant are arranged in a sunflower-inspired pattern, the efficiency of the solar field can be boosted.

CSP tower plants such as PS10 in southern Spain comprise a 100-metre high pillar surrounded by rows of giant mirrors rippling outward. More than 600 of these mirrors, each the size of half a tennis court, track the sun throughout the day, concentrating its rays on the central tower, where the sun’s heat is converted to electricity — enough to power 6,000 homes.

CSP proponents say the technology could potentially generate enough clean, renewable energy to power the entire United States, provided two factors are in ample supply: land and sunlight.

Now researchers at MIT, in collaboration with RWTH Aachen University in Germany, have come up with a design that reduces the amount of land required to build a CSP plant, while increasing the amount of sunlight its mirrors collect. The sunflower-inspired pattern allows for a more compact layout, minimizes heliostat shading and blocking by neighboring mirrors and takes up 20 percent less space than the PS10 layout. What’s more, the spiral pattern reduced shading and blocking and increased total efficiency compared with PS10’s radially staggered configuration.

The heliostat field presently contributes to about a third of the direct cost of most [CSP] plants. The spiral pattern could reduce the amount of land and the number of heliostats required to generate an equivalent amount of energy, which could result in significant cost savings.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Photo Courtesy: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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  • 18 Jan, 2012
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