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

a plant's overall efficiency. Alexander Mitsos, the Rockwell International Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Corey Noone SM '11 collaborated with Manuel Torrilhon of RWTH Aachen, where Mitsos was a researcher prior to joining the MIT faculty.

Mitsos' lab developed a computational model to evaluate the efficiency of heliostat layouts. The model divides each mirror into discrete sections and calculates the amount of light each section reflects at any given moment. The researchers then tested the model on an existing commercial-scale CSP plant. Noone and Mitsos ran the dimensions of the mirrors from the PS10 plant through the model, determining the plant's overall efficiency. The group found that the CSP plant experiences a significant amount of shading and blocking each day despite the staggered layout of its mirrors.

Spiraling out

To increase the plant's theoretical efficiency, Noone and Mitsos tinkered with the pattern of heliostats, using numerical optimization to first bring the fanned-out layout closer together. This narrower layout, the model calculated, reduced the amount of land the mirrors took up by 10 percent without affecting the mirrors' efficiency in reflecting light. The resulting pattern had some spiral elements similar to layouts in nature.

So the MIT team, working with Torrilhon, looked to nature for inspiration specifically, to the sunflower. The florets of a sunflower are arranged in a spiraling pattern, known as a Fermat spiral, that appears in many natural objects and has long fascinated mathematicians: The ancient Greeks even applied the patterns to buildings and other architectural structures. Mathematicians have found that each sunflower floret is turned at a "golden angle" about 137 degrees with respect to its neighboring floret.

The researchers devised a spiral field with its heliostats rearranged to resemble a sunflower, with each mirror angled about 137 degrees rel
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Contact: Caroline McCall
cmccall5@mit.edu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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