Aug 1, 2016 | By Benedict

Giant Leap Technologies (GLT) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have received $2.2M from the US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative. The two parties will develop new techniques for 3D printing opto-microfluidic structures, which will help to improve solar power efficiency.

Despite its geographical limitations, solar energy remains one of the most important weapons available in the global fight against greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In February 2011, the US Department of Energy announced the SunShot Initiative, a national program designed to encourage private companies, universities, and national laboratories to develop new and advanced solar technology. Since its launch, the initiative has achieved one of its primary goals: making solar-generated electricity price-competitive with traditional energy sources in 14 states. However, in its effort to bring price-competitive solar energy to the rest of the nation, the SunShot Initiative continues to invest in promising organizations in order to drive down the cost of solar electricity to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour before the end of the decade. The latest beneficiaries of the SunShot Initiative are GLT and LLNL, who have been awarded over $2.2 million ($1.75 million award, $491,330 in cost shares) to advance energy technology through 3D printing and other means.

GLT and LLNL were awarded their funding from the Concentrating Solar Power: Concentrating Optics for Lower Levelized Energy Costs (CSP: COLLECTS) funding program, an area of the SunShot Initiative which focuses on one particular aspect of solar energy: concentrating solar power (CSP) collectors, also known as reflectors, which use use reflective surfaces to concentrate sunlight on a precise area where it is absorbed and converted into electricity. The program encourages organizations to develop novel collectors in order to help the SunShot Initiative meet its targets.

The collector being developed by GLT and LLNL is called “Digital Glass,” and consists of thin transparent panels, purportedly much lighter than existing materials, and which can reduce the space required by a factor of 5 to 10 for the same annual energy harvest. The technology is able to do this because it is “area-filling” and, unlike most collectors, is not designed to allow sunlight to fall between trackers. GLT and LLNL have already created a large prototype, but the new SunShot Initiative funding will enable them to refine the design and reduce its thickness to that of a car windshield.

The two parties will explore a new additive manufacturing technique which involves 3D printing opto-microfluidic structures with micron feature sizes, eventually scaling up to square meter areas and potentially working with fabrication volumes nearly one billion times greater than those of a few years ago. “This is an excellent example of a partnership between industry and the national laboratories to use cutting-edge additive manufacturing techniques to advance innovative energy technology,” said Jeff Roberts, LLNL's deputy director for Energy and Climate Security.

GLT’s Digital Glass, which will be used for solar thermal and photovoltaic applications, might look like an ordinary glass slab, but its technology is highly complex. When an external signal is applied, the internal mirrors of the glass dynamically arrange themselves to redirect sunlight, independent of wavelength, polarization, system size and power level, thanks to micron-scale capillaries which contain a refractive Index Matching Fluid (IMF) distributed within the transparent solid. Distributing the fluid within the capillaries enables light to be steered to a solar receiver, where it is then captured and turned into electricity.

“At Giant Leap Technologies we believe that the next major advance in solar energy lies in liberating nature's secrets for the electronic control of sunlight,” said Leo DiDomenico, CEO of GLT. “It will provide amazing and previously unimagined ways to deploy low-cost solar power installations and has the potential to set new directions for both the solar thermal and photovoltaic industries for decades to come.”

GLT is not the first company to use 3D printing in the development of solar technology, but its ventures with LLNL demonstrate the exciting capabilities of additive manufacturing for producing environmentally beneficial, energy-generating tools.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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