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IBM solar collector magnifies sun by 2,000x

IBM solar collector magnifies sun by 2,000x thumbnail


© IBM

Cleverly combining solar PV with solar thermal to reach 80% conversion efficiency

Concentrating the sun’s ray onto solar photovoltaic (PV) modules requires walking the fine line between optimizing power output and not literally melting your very expensive super-high-efficiency solar cells. A team led by IBM Research seems to have found a way to push back the line. They have created a High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal (HCPVT) system that is capable of concentrating the power of 2,000 suns onto hundreds of triple junction photovoltaic chips measuring a single square centimeter each (they even claim to be able to keep temperatures safe up to 5,000x). The trick is that each solar PV cell is cooled using technology developed for supercomputers; microchannels inspired by blood vessels but only a few tens of micrometers in width pipe liquid coolant in and extract heat “10 times more effective than with passive air cooling.”


© IBM

Waste not

The beauty is that this heat is not just thrown away. This system gets useful work out of it. So while the PV modules are 30%+ efficient at converting the sun’s light into electricity, another 50% of the sun’s energy is captured as heat and can then be used to do things like thermal water desalination and adsorption cooling. This means that the system is capable of converting around 80% of the collected solar energy into useable energy (though the electricity is of course more useful than the thermal energy).


© IBM

A single collector can produce about 25 kilowatts of electricity. Below is a closeup of some PV cells where the light is being concentrated. Notice the piping to bring the liquid coolant.


© IBM

In the video below, IBM research scientist Bruno Michel gives an overview of the project:


© IBM

Keeping costs low

It’s great to see that efforts have been made to kind costs low. Some parts are very high-tech, but others are decidedly not:

“The design of the system is elegantly simple,” said Andrea Pedretti , chief technology officer at Airlight Energy. “We replace expensive steel and glass with low cost concrete and simple pressurized metalized foils. The small high-tech components, in particular the microchannel coolers and the molds, can be manufactured in Switzerland with the remaining construction and assembly done in the region of the installation. This leads to a win-win situation where the system is cost competitive and jobs are created in both regions.”


© IBM

They are targeting a cost below $250 per square meter, which would be three-times lower than comparable systems and bring “levelized cost of energy” to less than 10 cents per kilowatt hour (KWh). At this price, it would be a good fit for Southern Europe, Africa, the Arabic peninsula, the southwestern United States, South America, and Australia.


© IBM

Via IBM

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19 Comments on "IBM solar collector magnifies sun by 2,000x"

  1. mike on Thu, 25th Jul 2013 10:21 pm 

    2unlimited and their Technofix, Techhofix Technofix….

  2. Kenz300 on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 12:16 am 

    “It would take only 2% of the Sahara desert’s land area to supply the worlds electricity needs” …………

    ————————-

    Solar energy is safe, clean and gets cheaper and more productive every year.

  3. BillT on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 12:48 am 

    Mike, you are correct. The techies keep dreaming. Many unanswered questions.

    1. What is the coolant? (Odds are, it is dangerous/expensive/pollutant)

    2. What are the plans for all of that ‘waste’ heat? (Build a factory next to the array to turn it into electric with steam? Water?)

    3. TOTAL cost for a useful number in an array? (Too expensive, is my guess or there would be more info.)

    4. There appears to be a lot of highly technical (failure prone/difficult to make and maintain) components involved in a complicated machine system prone to all kinds of failures.

    5. Life expectancy? (My guess, less than 10 years at peak and maybe 20 max. By then, they will not be reproducible as there will not be any oil energy left. And oil IS needed for all of those components. ALL techie dreams need oil energy input.

  4. GregT on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 1:50 am 

    Not to mention the fact that many of the resources that require oil to extract, refine, transport, and manufacture, are also finite.

    Finite = unsustainable.

  5. mike on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 6:18 am 

    It’s just a joke, by the looks of this article, they have built a mini version (at what cost nobody knows) and now they are falling into the old scaling up trap. For intelligent people, scientists are really fricking stupid, and I’d like to know why that is, it interests me far more than technofix bull balls

  6. Arthur on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 7:19 am 

    mike, why don’t you take a look at this data:

    http://deepresource.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/61-electricity-from-solar-and-wind-in-germany/

    That was on a wednesday, with all of the potent German industry in full swing. Now please tell me where the ‘technofix’ is?

    Admittedly this was only during one hour, obviously under the best conditions. But this is only 2013 and probably some 7-17 years away from global peak fossil.

    Sometimes one gets the impression that a lot of people secretly hope for the collapse and will denounce everything that could contribute to a ‘solution’ of the energy problems.

  7. Alex on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 8:23 am 

    Arthur, what happens when all those renewable power systems in Germany need replacing? Where will the energy come from then, it won’t come from fossil fuels as by then the rest of the world would of used them up or be fighting over what’s left. Also, if Germany has power, where do you think all the refugees fleeing the resource wars will go?

  8. BillT on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 10:38 am 

    Alex, techies don’t want anyone to denounce their religion of faith. They never think beyond the propaganda put out to sucker in investors. There is never a downside to tech in their bible.

    I personally think we will be in a nuclear war in the next 5-10 years and it will likely be with Russia first and then China, but that will end any techie toys as what comes out the other side will be nothing we have ever seen on earth.

  9. Arthur on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 11:27 am 

    “Arthur, what happens when all those renewable power systems in Germany need replacing? Where will the energy come from then, it won’t come from fossil fuels as by then the rest of the world would of used them up or be fighting over what’s left.”

    From renewables.

    “Also, if Germany has power, where do you think all the refugees fleeing the resource wars will go?”

    Today only a few strong young men can be expected to make it to Europe if they are lucky and while there is still public transport in countries like Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Israel. The numbers that do get in are very small, fortress Europe already is a fact. If everything breaks down in India or Africa, people can walk for a few days and that will be it. And the people that do make it will experience a very hostile environment. Go inform yourself about the attitude of the Greeks towards the hundreds of thousands of illegals from Egypt and Afghanistan in their country, now in 2013. Expect a bloodbath when the situation further deteriorates. Just like in the 1930s, nationalism will prevail in Europe. Again.

  10. Mike on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 11:57 am 

    Arthur, All renewables are subsidised by fossil fuels. The fact is that it takes huge amounts of fossil fuel energy to extract and transport the materials to the site of construction, fossil fuels to build the technofix, fossil fuels to transport the technofix, fossil fuels to keep the thing running, etc. etc. I have no interest in the collapse of society but there are better uses for diffuse energy sources (like heating up food or water) that will actually be useful in the future.

    But Arthur, get investing, put your money where your mouth is and plough every last saved dollar into this project. I’m being serious, if you are that confident it’s going to work then it will be a huge money maker for you.

  11. Mike on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 12:18 pm 

    We call these technologies “fossil fuel extenders” , you are taking all that huge amount of fossil energy input and putting it into something that will actually generate energy (rather than a car or an ipad)

    I don’t even deny that some of these will be built, but the electricity from them will be so expensive as to simply create a whole new feudal system where the super rich have places powered by the devices and the surfs carry out maintenance and grow food for small amounts of electricity in return . They will probably only last a generation before they simply wind down never to be replaced. It’s not depressing, it’s just the rise and fall and rise and fall (and rise?) of civilisations.

  12. Mike on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 12:21 pm 

    Also, Arthur you are in the bargaining phase, we’ve all been there. BillT is in the depression phase where he sees no way out, but he’s further along the track than you and will come out the other end with new hope and enthusiasm to make the most of the new era approaching.

  13. mike on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 12:38 pm 

    Hey again Arthur, I though I smelt BS somewhere.

    Unless I’m mistaken, but that link you sent me where you stated it was a Wednesday and the German economy was in full swing at the time? well it turns out June 16th 2013 was a Sunday…A Sunday afternoon…just after Sunday lunch, the absolute lowest point of energy consumption I would imagine, and as you stated it was generating at optimum levels. Yeah I don’t think we need to speak anymore on this subject do we?

  14. Arthur on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 1:01 pm 

    “Arthur, All renewables are subsidised by fossil fuels.”

    Yes, *NOW*. We need fossil to kick off the renewable energy economy, later it will sustain itself.

    “We call these technologies “fossil fuel extenders””

    In the seventeenth century Holland was the premies address on this planet. The entire country was pumped dry with a few thousand wind turbines, all made by hand. Dutch ships meanwhile arrived in New Amsterdam and ‘New Holland’ aka Australia.

    All WITHOUT fossil fuel.

    This time it will be easier since we have accumulated four centuries worth of scientific/technological methods, which make all the difference.

    “Also, Arthur you are in the bargaining phase, we’ve all been there.”

    Don’t be arrogant. I completed college on exactly this energy theme thirty years ago. It was the Report of the Club of Rome that determined the choice of engineering study. I have been in laboraties producing solar cells myself and wrote computer models to design wind turbine blades, while you were possibly occupied filling your dipers.

    “BillT is in the depression phase where he sees no way out, but he’s further along the track than you and will come out the other end with new hope and enthusiasm to make the most of the new era approaching.”

    I admire Bill for the courage of his convictions, but I have also noticed that Bill is not interested in any solution whatsoever and that anybody who suggest even a hint towards a ‘solution’, gets denounced. Fine with me but I am not buying this nihilistic approach. Bill has installed himself on a tropical island, is busy settings up his satellite internet connection… in order to see the world go down, before he dies of old age. That’s a pretty morbid attitude. The worst thing that could happen in Bill’s life is that the ‘biggest show on earth’ is not going to happen during his lifetime or not at all. Not that he is going to admit that. I do not think Bill is depressed, he has too much energy to travel and read, and organize a new life phase.

    But it is alright with me if you collectively decide to turn away from technology and science and industrialism completely and emerse yourself in the American variant of European Romanticism… ‘Dances with wolves’, ‘Bonanza’… ‘Thoreau-Walden’ and what have you.

    In Europe we are simply going to continue European civilization after the end of the je… uhhh American century, with Russia as the new vast hinterland.

  15. mike on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 2:06 pm 

    I see you are ignoring the elephant in the room Arthur. The either Lie or mistake you made regarding Germany. To be honest with you, the fact you have spent 30 years trying to develop a renewable tech that isn’t a waste of time and are still failing miserably speaks volumes. 30 years and what do we have? a dish that magnifies light and heat onto a sensor, well sorry but that has already been invented on a much more useful scale , it’s called a solar oven.

    Nobody is saying that you should turn away from solving problems, but what you are doing it solving problems with more complexity rather than less complexity. That’s not how time periods like this one work. I have no doubt that more and more new shiny technofixes will keep being on the cusp of bringing a shiny new world but they will all come to nothing in the end.

    Just because you started down the path 30 years ago doesn’t mean you are not in denial. Your mind is simply still embedded in the cult/religion of progress and so the only solution in your mind is to continue down a dead end at any costs. What you describe has nothing to do with science, you are merely trying to use technology to continue your lifestyle, that isn’t science, that is a just a desperate way of thinking.

    Real scientists are facing the future and coming up with ways to do more with less.

    Solar ovens
    Solar hot water heaters
    Growing food without any fossil fuel inputs.
    etc.

    People doing these things are the real pioneers and the ones who will be remembered , not a group of “scientists” who fail to comprehend the basic laws of thermodynamics whilst wasting money on fusion power, solar power, wind power that could be better spent elsewhere.

    science has become its own religion in a way. (The scientific method is a fantastic system for understanding truth, I have no quarrel with it). On the other hand much of the scientific community now reminds me of a group of shamans from times past, throwing peasants into volcanoes or sacrificing them to appease the gods.

    The comparison to scientists wasting money on foolish and unworkable projects to appease the god of growth is surely to obvious for you to ignore.

  16. Arthur on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 2:51 pm 

    ” the fact you have spent 30 years trying to develop a renewable tech that isn’t a waste of time and are still failing miserably speaks volumes.”

    Learn to read, I did that at the university only and had a different career afterwards. Had everything to do with the Carter years ending and Reagan coming along, who as a first symbolic act of government removed the solar panels from the White House. Funds dried up for renewable research and the yuppie era started… and I became a left-liberal leaning yuppie making loads of money. Never touched renewable energy ever again, three years after college.

    “Just because you started down the path 30 years ago doesn’t mean you are not in denial. Your mind is simply still embedded in the cult/religion of progress and so the only solution in your mind is to continue down a dead end at any costs”

    Well, I am (have become rather) a right winger and hence I do not believe in ‘progress’ anymore, I gladly leave that to Soviets (now defunct) and Americans.

    “Nobody is saying that you should turn away from solving problems, but what you are doing it solving problems with more complexity rather than less complexity.”

    Well, you might have a point with nuclear power stations, but I do not know what is so complex about a windturbine or solar panel. Denmark already has 40% from wind, so what is there left to prove? It works.

    “On the other hand much of the scientific community now reminds me of a group of shamans from times past, throwing peasants into volcanoes or sacrificing them to appease the gods.”

    OMG, I start to doubt if you have ever seen a windturbine or solar panel. They do exist, you know.

    “The comparison to scientists wasting money on foolish and unworkable projects to appease the god of growth is surely to obvious for you to ignore.”

    Fine. You go ahead with your solar cookers and we in Europe will ‘futile muddle along’ with renewable technology, meanwhile adopted by all European governments, even the British. And it is going to work. We’ll see who has the last laugh. What I do start to suspect is that fossil fuel is so much incorporated in American life that nobody can think of a mode of life after the fossil fuel age and that includes early birds like you, who at least understand that the old way of doing things is over in the long term.

  17. Concerned on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 6:10 pm 

    Arthur about having the last laugh and muddle along.

    Can people not see that Peak Oil is here now. There is not enough surplus energy to drive growth.

    Look at the global economy, US has the woeful rates of total employment and wages that are stagnant since the 1970′s.

    Europe please total economic basket case. Ireland, Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal even the UK

    China and India? Mixed biggest asset and liability is the nearly 3 billion people.

    The low hanging fruit of expansion and growth is gone, we have a much harder grind ahead.

    I do love my electronic gadgets, car, internet etc.. However they do not define me, I will enjoy and treasure them for as long as the human species can support these items.

    Additionally the value chain if I had to choose between gadgets and for example plumbed water to my home, flush toilet and hot water for showers. I would take these over the gadgets.

  18. Arthur on Fri, 26th Jul 2013 8:01 pm 

    “Can people not see that Peak Oil is here now.”

    There is a lot of debate about that. And yes, 10-20 years off the mark is nothing on the time scale of the history of human civilization, yet it could make a huge difference during a period of energy transition.

  19. Kent Otho Doiering on Wed, 31st Jul 2013 2:54 pm 

    Very interesting article about the I.B.M tech.
    I myself tend more to favour the classic “rooftop solar” solution directly in Europe where there are less problems with rain/sandstorms blinding concentrated power in the Sahara. Wind is the better solution.

    Here in Germany, another group just submitted several patents for slashing the price of materials going into making rooftop solar (heat recapture-aqueous fuel system tech.)while doubling the efficiencies from a current 18-20% to 38%. That means slashing the costs of panels- boosting efficiencies. and achieving prices of about € . 50 Euro cents per installed producing kilowatt. That will boost the annual installation rate of rooftop solar to over 10 GW p.a. for a total rooftop solar installation of over 80 GW in rated capacity by the end of 2025.

    We will match that by building out advanced waste to power- manure methane recapture systems on over 200.000 German farms by 2025. These not only capture manure methane, they store it. And the systems will be distributed SMART GRID coordinated with solar and wind.
    That is, the agrarian w2p systems will produce an average of 350 kwh on advanced hybrid-fuel cell-stirling motor driving generator systems – 12 hours a day. (heating farm buildings and adjacent village buildings as well.)
    200.000 units mean – 70.000 mw of power-
    in w2p -12 hours a day. These will kick in at 5 in the morning- run six hours to 11 a.m.,(shutting off when the daytime 80 kw of solar is in full operation) and starting back up between 4:00 p.m. (winter) and 7 p.m. summer cycles, producing another 6 hours- i.e. to 10: p.m. (this combination of rooftop solar and manure-methane waste to power systems will cover 25% of peakload demand weekday, daytime peak power needs with an average constant 70 gw from early morning through late evenings.)

    Inland, onshore coastline, and high availability offshore wind installations continue to be installed at ever increasing rates in Germany. This is one of the other workhorses of the German “EnergieWende”. Over 50 GW of wind is installed, and another over 110 GW of wind is expected to be installed by the end of 2025 in inland, coastline, and offshore installations where the wind blows about 24/7.

    Hydro-electric currently makes up only 4% of the energy mix. That is changing as conventional dams are getting “power upgrades” on the generators and transformers which will boost their output by an average of 30%, i.e. pushing that part of hydro to 5.2%..

    Then, a new form of hydro will be going in on many German river systems- anchored, floating, non-dam on-stream hydro-electric-which will put another 30 GW of power onto the grid by 2025. That is, the total hydro-output, dam and anchored onstream- will be about
    45 GW.

    There is another form of non-fossil system- namely waste to power systems-
    i.e. sewage-sludge-city compost methane recapture driving combined cycle – combined heat power units, and big garbge incineration units also feeding the building out district heat systems.
    (that is still building out in Germany- displacing coal and natural gas… over 20.000 megawatts with another 10 expected by the end of 2025.

    Total expected weekday output from those non-fossil sources-by the end of 2025: solar-agrarian methane- 70 GW,
    over 150 GW in wind, conventinal and on-stream hydroelectric- 45 GW, urban waste to combined heat power systems-
    30 GW. No less than 295 GW- just over 90% of expected German power demands calculated for the year. (many efficiency measures are going in, but electro-mobility systems are kicking in, and masses of e-cars charging batteries- acting as buffers – will boost power demands while further slashing fossil fuel consumption.