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MIT research: A new sunflower-inspired pattern increases concentrated solar efficiency
Date:1/11/2012

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Just outside Seville, in the desert region of Andalucia, Spain, sits an oasis-like sight: a 100-meter-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.

The sprawling site, named PS10, is among a handful of concentrated solar power (CSP) plants in the world, although that number is expected to grow. 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 researchers found that by rearranging the mirrors, or heliostats, in a pattern similar to the spirals on the face of a sunflower, they could reduce the pattern's "footprint" by 20 percent and increase its potential energy generation. The sunflower-inspired pattern allows for a more compact layout, and minimizes heliostat shading and blocking by neighboring mirrors. The researchers published their results in the journal Solar Energy, and have recently filed for patent protection.

Blocking a shadow

At PS10 and other CSP plants in the world, mirrors are arranged around the central tower in concentric circles. The spacing between mirrors is similar to the seats in a movie theater, staggered so that every other row is aligned. However, this pattern results in higher-than-necessary shadowing and blocking throughout the day, reducing the reflection of light from mirrors to the tower.

The MIT team looked to optimize the pattern to increase
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Contact: Caroline McCall
cmccall5@mit.edu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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