New solar module produces clean energy and heat simultaneously

Three technological innovations significantly reduce costs.

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An international team of researchers led by Armin Buchroithner from Graz University of Technology has developed a parabolic trough collector with cost-effective photovoltaic cells that can help generate solar power and thermal energy simultaneously.

This new type of solar module consists of a trough-shaped concave mirror that focuses the sun’s rays onto the photovoltaic cells arranged in the focal line. The technology is designed in such a way that the waste heat produced by the solar cells can be transferred to a heat transfer fluid flowing along the back of the cells in a system of pipes.

This development can help generate both thermal and electrical energy simultaneously and can be used for various purposes, such as climate-neutral heating and cooling of buildings or in the food and textile industry.

A cooling liquid flows along the back of the solar cells, absorbing and utilising the waste heat from the concentrated solar radiation.
A cooling liquid flows along the back of the solar cells, absorbing and utilising the waste heat from the concentrated solar radiation. Credit: EMS – TU Graz

The idea of generating electricity and heat from solar radiation has been around for several decades but has faced challenges due to high costs and technological issues.

However, Buchroithner’s team has overcome these obstacles by developing several technological innovations in the course of the ECOSun – Economic COgeneration by Efficiently COncentrated SUNlight research project.

In cooperation with IMK Solarmirrotec, parabolic trough collectors have been manufactured more efficiently using industrial production methods such as injection molding technology. The cost-effective and robust silicon solar cells, developed in collaboration with the Turkish research center GÜNAM, can withstand the high temperatures of concentrated sunlight. According to researchers, the parabolic trough mirrors amplify the solar irradiation by a factor of 60 to 120.

The newly developed silicon solar cells are very robust so that they can withstand the 60-fold increase in solar radiation.
The newly developed silicon solar cells are very robust, so they can withstand the 60-fold increase in solar radiation. Credit: EMS – TU Graz

The researchers have also optimized the cooling of the solar cells to make the waste heat more usable for further applications.

“This approach has the potential to make a significant contribution to the energy transition,” says Armin Buchroithner. So far, parabolic trough solar power plants have been located almost exclusively in particularly sunny regions such as Spain or the Persian Gulf.

“However, our tests have shown that it can also be useful here in Austria or other regions to replace fossil fuels in industrial processes,” says Buchroithner. “Given the rising energy prices and the desire for energy independence, the importance of independent, efficient, and cost-effective solutions for the supply of electricity and heat is increasing.”

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