Sandia National Laboratories recently published a report about a new Fractal-like concentrating solar receiver that can be created thanks to 3D Printing. The receiver could potentially boost solar power efficiency by 20 percent.
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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.
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.