A group of researchers led by IBM is currently working on a new solar collector dish that could avoid that damage while taking a big step forward in photovoltaic energy efficiency.
The idea of scientists is to develop an affordable photovoltaic system capable of concentrating, on average, the power of 2,000 suns, with an efficiency that can collect 80 percent of the incoming radiation and convert it to useful energy. The proposed system can be built anywhere sustainable energy, drinkable water and cool air are in short supply at a cost of three times lower than comparable systems.
The prototype HCPVT system uses a large parabolic dish, made from a multitude of mirror facets, which is attached to a tracking system that determines the best angle based on the position of the sun. Once aligned, the sun’s rays reﬂect off the mirror onto several microchannel-liquid cooled receivers with triple junction photovoltaic chips — each 1×1 centimeter chip can convert 200-250 watts, on average, over a typical eight hour day in a sunny region.
The entire receiver combines hundreds of chips and provides 25 kilowatts of electrical power. The photovoltaic chips are mounted on microstructured layers that pipe liquid coolants within a few tens of micrometers off the chip to absorb the heat and draw it away 10 times more effective than with passive air cooling.
The coolant maintains the chips almost at the same temperature for a solar concentration of 2,000 times and can keep them at safe temperatures up to a solar concentration of 5,000 times. The direct cooling solution with very small pumping power is inspired by the hierarchical branched blood supply system of the human body and has been already tested by IBM scientists in high performance computers, including Aquasar.
"We plan to use triple-junction photovoltaic cells on a microchannel cooled module which can directly convert more than 30 percent of collected solar radiation into electrical energy and allow for the efﬁcient recovery of waste heat above 50 percent," said Bruno Michel, manager, advanced thermal packaging at IBM Research. "We believe that we can achieve this with a very practical design that is made of innovative concrete trackers, primary optics composed of inexpensive pneumatic mirrors and structures made of concrete — it’s frugal innovation, but builds on decades of experience in lightweight and high strength concrete elements used for building bridges."
An initial demonstrator of the multi-chip receiver was developed in a previous collaboration between IBM and the Egypt Nanotechnology Research Center.
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