Hybrid solar converter harvests both sunlight and heat with 85% efficiency
The photovoltaic module of the new hybrid solar converter
Engineers have developed a new type of hybrid solar power converter, which uses the sun's energy to create both electricity and steam. The device would have a high efficiency and operate at low cost, which would allow the industry to use a wider spectrum of solar energy.
The most common way to collect energy from the sun is photovoltaics. These solar cells generate electricity from sunlight, and they're so simple they're built into everything from garden lights to the grid itself.
But this is not the only way. Solar concentrators collect heat instead of light, concentrating the sun's rays to heat a contained fluid. This can then be used to generate electricity - for example in the form of steam to turn a turbine - or more directly, to heat homes or for other industrial processes.
Normally these two systems are separate, but attempts have been made to couple them into single hybrid devices, often resulting in lower efficiency or higher cost. But now researchers say they've created a new hybrid solar power converter that combines the best of both worlds.
The device looks like a satellite dish, with a small device suspended from the center of a satellite dish. The flat part is mirrored and focuses the sun's rays on the box in the middle. The bottom of this section contains multi-junction solar cells, which collect and convert visible and ultraviolet light into electricity.
But the smart part is that these cells redirect infrared light - thermal energy - to a separate thermal receiver higher up in the device. This receiver is essentially a cup-shaped cavity surrounded by pressurized water, which picks up heat and turns into steam.
The team says the total collection efficiency is 85,1%, which means that a very large amount of solar energy is converted into electricity or heat. Steam can be heated up to 248 ° C (478 ° F), which is a much higher temperature than many other thermal energy collectors. This means that it is hot enough for many industrial processes, such as drying, curing, sterilization and pasteurization.
The other benefit is the cost. The team reports that once scaled, the hybrid device could operate for as little as 3 cents per kilowatt hour.
The team, which is made up of researchers from Tulane University, the University of San Diego, San Diego State University, Boeing-Spectrolab and Otherlab, has received follow-up funding for the next development cycle and plans to refine the technology and work to scale it up for pilot plant testing.
The research was published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science.
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