Hybrid solar converter generates both electricity and steam with 85% efficiency

It generates electricity and high-temperature heat with high efficiency and low cost.

Currently, collecting energy from the Sun through photovoltaics or solar panels is the most typical and efficient method. There are also Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems that concentrate the Sun’s energy using reflective devices such as troughs or mirror panels to produce heat that is then used to generate electricity. There have been hybrid solar energy devices that combine heat and power systems but are more expensive overall and less efficient.

Now, a team of researchers at Tulane University has developed a hybrid solar energy converter that generates both electricity and steam. According to scientists, the device works with high efficiency and has low cost, which would significantly enhance sustainability in the commercial and industrial sectors.

The hybrid converter is based on conventional solar thermal collectors, including flat plate, parabolic trough collectors (PTCs), and dish systems, with PV cells acting as thermal absorbers. The hybrid receiver is located at the focal plane of a mirrored dish collector, which tracks the Sun via a low-cost two-axis tracker.

The device generates electricity from high efficiency multi-junction solar cells that also redirect infrared rays of sunlight to a thermal receiver, which converts those rays to thermal energy. The thermal energy can be stored until needed and used to provide heat for a wide range of commercial and industrial uses.

During the tests, the device achieved a total collection efficiency of 85.1%, while the Steam output reached 248°C. It is projected to have a system Levelized cost of 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

We are pleased to have demonstrated high-performance field operation of our solar converter and look forward to its ongoing commercial development,” said Matthew Escarra, associate professor of physics and engineering physics at Tulane.

Researchers from San Diego State University, Boeing-Spectrolab, and Otherlab, were also part of the project. The hybrid solar energy converter features a solar module with glowing red cells.

Journal Reference:
  1. Solar cogeneration of electricity with high-temperature process heat. DOI: 10.1016/j.xcrp.2020.100135

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