Nov 1, 2017 | By Tess

A team from Sandia National Laboratories, one of three National Nuclear Security Administration research and development laboratories, says it has developed fractal-like concentrating solar power receivers that are more effective at absorbing sunlight that existing systems.

The breakthrough, which was enabled by 3D printing technology, is being investigated by both the U.S. and Indian governments as a potential way to increase the effectiveness of solar power energy.

(Image: Randy Montoya)

More specifically, the Sandia engineers say they used a powder-bed fusion 3D printing process to manufacture the concentrating solar power receivers out of Inconel 718, a high-temperature nickel alloy.

“Additive manufacturing enabled us to generate complex geometries for the receiver tubes in a small-scale prototype,” said Sandia researcher Cliff Ho. “Fabricating these complex geometries using traditional methods such as extrusion, casting or welding would have been difficult.”

Ho added that 3D printing enabled the team to produce multiple fractal designs for testing purposes at a low cost and has the potential to be scaled up to 3D print “entire sections of larger solar receivers.”

Typically, concentrating solar power facilities operate on a large scale and generate enough energy to power big projects or regions. By developing smaller-scale receivers, the Sandia engineers see the opportunity to offer concentrating solar power technology to, say, a small village.

India, for instance, is interested in developing 1 megawatt or smaller solar power facilities which could provide power and electricity to small, even remote communities. The new 3D printed solar power receivers might just be the solution.

In developing the devices, the engineers had to come up with a design that was both able to withstand high temperatures and pressures all while absorbing the sun’s light and storing or transferring it to a power cycle.

Existing receiver designs traditionally consist of either a flat panel of tubes or a cylinder of tubes, which are capable of absorbing roughly 80 to 90 per cent of concentrated sunlight they are exposed to. With their 3D printed receivers, however, the researchers say they have achieved results up to 20 per cent more effective than conventional receivers.

Ho explains, “When light is reflected off of a flat surface, it’s gone. On a flat receiver design, 5 percent or more of the concentrated sunlight reflects away. So we configured the panels of tubes in a radial or louvered pattern that traps the light at different scales. We wanted the light to reflect, and then reflect again toward the interior of the receiver and get absorbed, sort of like the walls of a sound-proof room.”

Interestingly, the researchers found that they could design 3D printed receivers for particular applications. For instance, for India’s small-scale purpose, the team found they had more flexibility in creating the 3D printed solar energy receivers.

“India has different market drivers than the U.S.,” said Ho. “The competition for renewable energy there is diesel generators, which create a lot of pollution and are extremely expensive. It gives us a little more flexibility to create a smaller concentrating solar power system that will work for their needs.”

Currently, the Sandia team is testing and evaluating how the 3D printed receivers function with different gases. This is being done by “flowing air, carbon dioxide, and helium through the receiver tubes with the ultimate goal of pairing the new receiver designs with supercritical carbon dioxide Brayton cycles.” (A Brayton cycle is system that uses hot, pressurized supercritical carbon dioxide to spin a turbine to generate energy for electricity.)

Ultimately, the goal of the project is to develop the “next generation of concentrating solar power technology,” which could help make the renewable energy source more efficient and thus more competitive with existing forms of non-renewable energy.

Sandia’s research initiative is part of a Laboratory Directed Research and Development project as well as the Solar Energy Research Institute for India and the United States (SERIIUS), a five-year project being led by the Indian Institute of Science and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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