Oct 22, 2015 | By Alec

The web is full of fun and free 3D printable models, but most are just small fan tributes to movie or video game franchises. They’re nothing wrong with them, but we just particularly enjoy 3D printable objects that have an additional function or carry a message. That’s exactly what we enjoyed about a recent release by the Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative (better known as ASTRI), who have sent their own STL file into the 3D printing community. They have designed a cool little scale model of their solar thermal power plant to make the concept of solar power more tangible and to get people thinking about how accessible it actually is.

The fact that this fun little model comes out of Australia is hardly surprising, as few areas in the world even come close to the amount of solar irradiance (which is used for producing energy) that Australia receives. Fortunately, Australia is increasingly adopting this form of clean energy ,and there seems to be plenty of it. The US Department of Energy has previously estimated that the sun shines down more energy to the earth per hour, than we collectively consume in an entire year, so ASTI has got a point.

While estimates suggests that solar energy will increasingly become a major energy source over the coming years (the most important one by 2050), ASTI is now releasing this fun 3D printed creation to get more people thinking about this energy. In particular, they argue that concentrating solar thermal (CTS) power plants), that use mirrors to concentrate sunlight up to 1000 times its original strength, could be the key to a sustainable future. These machines then capture that power as thermal energy in fluids that are heated to high temperature.

ASTRI, which is partnered with innovation promotor Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), has now given the rest of a glimpse of these futuristic Concentrating Solar Thermal Power Plants. ‘As the debate heats up around the best path forward for Australia’s renewable energy future, it’s the storage component of CST technology that will revolutionise the way we deploy solar power,’ ASTRI’s director dr. Manuel Blanco said.

The 3D printable file is a snapshot of the 25 MW powerplant, and will enable Australians and the rest of the world to get familiar with the benefits and value the CST technology brings to the table. ‘This model brings that component to life, showing how the storage tanks are positioned in conjunction with the solar tower and heliostat array to capture and dispatch energy, even when the sun isn’t shining,’ the director added. The 3D printable model is 19 by 19 centimeters, and shows 140 of the 6377 mirrors that make up a complete field, as well as the receiver and molten salt storage tanks.

While the model itself isn’t capable of collecting energy, what it represents definitely does. ‘When combined with a detailed field map of the full ASTRI heliostat array (the mirror field), the model illustrates a CST plant that could generate up to 90 GWh of electrical energy per year,’ ASTRI writes on their website. ‘Enough to power more than 12,000 homes each year according to figures from the Australian Energy Regulator.’

Now that’s certainly impressive. If you’re interested in creating this scale model yourself, head over to the ASTRI website to download the file. In the clip below, you can see it being 3D printed.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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