Shopping? Check out our latest product comparisons

Solar thermal collection system uses Sun's heat to keeps things cool

By

October 4, 2011

Professor Roland Winston and his student team, with an array of External Compound Paraboli...

Professor Roland Winston and his student team, with an array of External Compound Parabolic Concentrators

Given that it typically gets hottest outside when the sunlight is most direct, it would make sense to have air conditioners that were powered by the thermal energy from solar rays. Unfortunately, collecting enough of that energy in a cost-effective manner can be challenging. Now, however, a team of University of California, Merced students have created a solar thermal collection system that is said to be significantly simpler, cheaper and more efficient than anything that's come before.

The students were led by Professor Roland Winston, and their system uses what are known as External Compound Parabolic Concentrators (XCPCs). Each device concentrates sunlight onto a specially-designed collector tube, which converts that sunlight's energy into heat. The combined solar heat from an array of these XCPCs can be fed into a building's heating system, used to generate electricity, or to run an absorption chiller-style air conditioner - these generate cold air in a process that utilizes heat, as opposed to electricity created from heat.

The UC Merced system is simpler than many other solar thermal collectors, in that it is stationary - other systems turn to track the Sun throughout the day, which requires complex mechanisms and a source of power, plus it limits the locations in which they can be installed.

Because the system has such a wide field of view of the sky, it is also able to operate even on hazy days, scavenging sufficient heat even from indirect sunlight.

In tests of the technology, the system was reportedly able to reach a solar thermal efficiency of 60 percent at temperatures up to 400F (204C). "The efficiency of 60 percent refers to 60 percent of the sun's irradiance being converted into 'thermal' energy" UC Merced's Ron Durbin explained to us. "This is quite different than a photovoltaic system that converts 15-20 percent of the sun's irradiance into electricity."

Winston admits that many other scientists have doubted the UC Merced team's claims, which is why they set up a demonstration. They are currently using an array of 160 XCPCs in two parallel rows, to run a 6.5-ton (5.9-tonne) "double-effect" absorption chiller in a mobile office trailer.

"We believe this is the first working system of its kind anywhere in the world," said Winston. "For any application that requires process heat, the XCPC system is potentially a very cost-effective way to reduce conventional fuel consumption and greenhouse gases."

German research firm Fraunhofer has also experimented with solar-powered absorption chillers for refrigerating perishable foodstuffs in Tunisia and Morocco.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
11 Comments

Keep up the work, and work on making it affordable for the general public. :)

Luminosity
4th October, 2011 @ 10:53 am PDT

They should insulate the top half of the collector tube. More energy will be leaving it than will be entering it by direct lighting.

SamD
4th October, 2011 @ 02:53 pm PDT

Interesting. Doesn't a camper refrigerator/freezer use

a propane flame to heat the ammonia refrigerant ?!?

If I remember this is called an absorption refrigerator.

Same principle, different application of use.

Great for them if it finds a market and makes a profit.

BombR76
4th October, 2011 @ 04:53 pm PDT

The question is will it provide cooling overnight as well, without the benefit of a alternate heat source?

I always thought that cars should use Absorption refrigeration powered by the engine's waste heat for their air conditioning.

Slowburn
4th October, 2011 @ 10:46 pm PDT

Camper refrigerators use the heat absorbed by liquid propane boiling off and expanding into a gas at room temperature to cool itself. The flame is just a pilot light to gradually burn off the escaping gas.

Michael Davis
5th October, 2011 @ 10:39 am PDT

Brilliant! Bring it to market please!

Good idea Slowburn.

foghorn
5th October, 2011 @ 03:05 pm PDT

It's too bad the article failed to mention the area necessary to drive the chiller.

One more point, while I do not recall the name, there is a company (Japanese, but again, not sure) That does this already. I believe their smallest unit is 10 ton (120,000 btuh).

Burnerjack
5th October, 2011 @ 03:38 pm PDT

The benefit of living underground will be huge. We need to learn how to make it more practical and pleasant.

Stewart Mitchell
5th October, 2011 @ 08:54 pm PDT

re; Michael Davis - October 5, 2011 @ 10:39 am PDT

Not on any that I have seen. read this page.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absorption_refrigerator

Slowburn
5th October, 2011 @ 10:56 pm PDT

There was something like a sound-refrigerator some time ago...would love to hear if that is going anywhere soon?



Marcus Heavyweather
6th October, 2011 @ 04:43 am PDT

Solar cooling is available trough use of flat solar collectors as well - http://www.catchsolar.net. With new developments in absorption chillers, the temperature gained from an efficient flat solar collector (like boundary layer absorption collectors) makes cooling both efficient and beneficial in a cost perspective.

Hans-Christian Francke
20th October, 2011 @ 05:11 am PDT
Post a Comment

Login with your gizmag account:

Or Login with Facebook:


Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our 27,818 articles