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Making SunCatchers instead of cars

By Chemical Engineering |

Stirling Energy Systems (SES; Phoenix, Ariz.; www.stirlingenergy.com) and Tessera Solar (Houston; www.tesserasolar.com) recently unveiled four, newly designed solar-power collection dishes at Sandia National Laboratories’ National Solar Thermal Test Facility (Albuquerque, N.M.). The refined design of SunCatchers will be used in commercial-scale deployment of the units in 2010 (see also Solar’s Second Coming, CE, March, pp. 18–21). SunCatchers use mirrors attached to a parabolic dish to focus sunlight onto a receiver, which transmits the heat to a Stirling Engine — a sealed system filled with hydrogen. As the H2 heats or cools, its pressure rises and falls, driving a piston inside the engine; this mechanical energy is used to drive a generator for making electricity. Compared to its predecessor, the new SunCatcher: is about 5,000 lb lighter; is round instead of rectangular, which allows more efficient use of steel; has improved optics; consists of 60% fewer engine parts; and has fewer mirrors (40 instead of 80). The mirrors are formed into parabolic shape using stamped sheet metal, similar to the hood of a car. “By utilizing the automotive supply chain to manufacture the SunCatcher, we’re leveraging…
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