SunCatcher Power System Ready For Commercial Production
Stirling Energy Systems (SES) and Tessera Solar worked jointly and have come out with their precious device called SunCatchers(TM). They exhibited their four newly designed solar power collection dishes at Sandia National Laboratories’ National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF). SunCatchers are the new dishes that will be utilized on commercial-scale by 2010. Chuck Andraka, who is the lead Sandia project engineer, shares his enthusiasm about SunCatchers, “The four new dishes are the next-generation models of the original SunCatcher system. Six first-generation SunCatchers built over the past several years at the NSTTF have been producing up to 150KW of grid-ready electrical power during the day. Every part of the new system has been upgraded to allow for a high rate of production and cost reduction.”
The basic principle of any energy production is always the same. Here also the basics are what we have read in our school textbooks. The SunCatchers have precision mirrors attached to a parabolic dish to focus the sun’s rays onto a receiver. This receiver transmits the heat to a Stirling engine. The engine is a sealed system filled with hydrogen. Here the hydrogen gas heats and cools and we know that with heating and cooling of gases, its pressure rises and falls. This pressure gradient drives the piston inside the engine, producing mechanical power. Now this mechanical power goes into a generator and electricity is produced.
How this new SunCatcher is different from previous ones? It is about 5,000 pounds lighter than the original. This SunCatcher is round in shape instead of rectangular. The round shape of the SunCatcher allows for more efficient use of steel. It has improved optics, and consists of 60 percent fewer engine parts. The latest design also has fewer mirrors i.e. 40 instead of 80. The mirrors are produced using automobile manufacturing techniques. The reflective mirrors are of parabolic shape similar to the hood of a car. These improvements produce the obvious results in the form of high-volume production, cost reductions, and easier maintenance.
Steve Cowman, Stirling Energy Systems CEO, says “The new design of the SunCatcher represents more than a decade of innovative engineering and validation testing, making it ready for commercialization. By utilizing the automotive supply chain to manufacture the SunCatcher, we’re leveraging the talents of an industry that has refined high-volume production through an assembly line process. More than 90 percent of the SunCatcher components will be manufactured in North America.”
Sandia’s contribution to this project is quite important. They have come out with a new device to determine how well the mirrors work in less than 10 seconds. Earlier they had to wait for at least one hour to know about the same.
Andraka also points out the environmental advantages of the manufacturing process of the SunCatchers, “They have the lowest water use of any thermal electric generating technology, require minimal grading and trenching, require no excavation for foundations, and will not produce greenhouse gas emissions while converting sunlight into electricity.”