By Josh Perry, Editor
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office is giving the University of Michigan $1.6 million to work on a pair of projects – electricity-generating windows and high-temperature solar power.
A transparent aerogel could reduce the energy loss in absorbers for solar thermal power plants by 67 percent. (Lenert Lab/Michigan Engineering)
According to a report from the school, $1.3 million is dedicated to solar cell windows. Instead of coating windows to reduce glare or to block thermal energy, the researchers are creating flexible, clear solar cell sheets that can capture the unwanted energy.
The solar cell sheets are composed of transparent and flexible organic materials. Researchers have already developed sheets that capture eight percent of the sunlight, but the goal is to double that total with 50% transparency.
The second project looks to reduce the amount of heat lost when capturing solar thermal energy by holding the captured energy as heat until it needs to be converted to electricity.
The article explained, “In a solar thermal setup, sunlight shines onto an absorber, typically a pipe with a fluid inside, and the heat carried by the fluid is used to turn a turbine in a power plant.” What is unique about this project is the operating temperature would be 700°C, which is a level that most conventional solar collectors lose 15 KW/m2.
Researchers believe they can cut that energy loss by as much as 67% with a silica aerogel insulator enhanced by an ultrathin coating, which blocks the infrared rays that cause most of the heat loss at high temperatures.
“The ultimate goal is to achieve such high temperatures that a special form of carbon dioxide can be used as the heated fluid, enabling more efficient conversion to electricity than is possible with the standard steam turbine,” the article added.