A successful test has been carried out of a new prototype solar dish that concentrates solar rays by 1,000 times, creating what inventor Doug Wood has called “the most efficient solar collector in existence.”
The device is a 12-foot-wide dish made from thin, mirrored aluminum tubing and strips of mirrored glass. Water runs through the center of the dish in a coil of tubing, which is painted black for maximum heat absorption.
The collector is so effective at focusing light that when it is pointed directly at the sun, the water in the middle instantly vaporizes into steam. The prototype has also been used to set a plank of wood on fire, and researchers believe that it should be able to generate enough heat to melt steel.
Wood has signed over the rights to the device’s design to a team of MIT students, who built the prototype and have launched a company to mass produce the devices. The company, RawSolar, hopes to use heat generated by the collector to produce steam for electricity generation, industrial processing, or heating or cooling buildings.
Wood spoke approvingly of the changes that the students had made to his design
“They really have simplified this and made it user-friendly, so anybody can build it,” he said.
Unlike with many alternative energy sources, large-scale production is not required to make the solar dishes cost-efficient, Wood said. Because the materials to make the device are so cheap and because larger dishes require a larger, more expensive support structure, small dishes actually costs only one-third as much as large ones for every unit of collecting area.
“I’ve looked for years at a variety of solar approaches, and this is the cheapest I’ve seen,” said David Pelly of MIT. “And the key thing in scaling it globally is that all of the materials are inexpensive and accessible anywhere in the world.”
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