On 28 July, the US Department of Energy (DOE) awarded grants to six research projects which aim to reduce the costs of concentrating solar collectors. The initiative is called COLLECTS, which is short for Concentrating Optics for Lower Levelized Energy Costs, and focuses on the most expensive component of a CSP plant: the collectors / the reflector. One of the beneficiaries of the COLLECTS budget of nearly USD 9 million is California-based, early-stage technology provider Sunvapor, which is planning to supply the industry with solar steam solutions more cost-effective than natural gas-based steam boilers. COLLECT is part of the DOE’s SunShot initiative started in 2011.
“This award will help us demonstrate that the cost of solar can be drastically cut by taking advantage of renewable fibre-reinforced composite materials,” Sunvapor´s CEO, Dr Philip Gleckman, was quoted in a press release distributed by the company on 29 July. The DOE’s project budget for Sunvapor is USD 2.18 million, of which the company has to contribute 20 %. The award will support Gleckman and his team in developing and field-testing a full-scale prototype of a newly designed parabolic trough collector. “Trusses on the concave side of the parabola minimise the amount of material needed to achieve the stiffness of the bended mirrors and reduce the number of assembly figures and process steps in construction,” the project summary on the COLLECTS website reads. The manufacturer will also use an outdoor-proven, fibre-reinforced composite at 15 % of the cost of its steel alternative. “Our digitally optimised designs look different and have a simpler construction because we are liberated from the rules that apply to steel,” Gleckman explained.
Great potential for solar steam supply in the US
According to the press release, fuel for process heat makes up nearly half of all primary energy used by manufacturers in the USA, contributing a fifth to the nation’s total GHG emissions. Sunvapor sees great potential for solar steam supply in the US, and the company is confident that it can offer steam to food processing plants at lower prices than are reached by natural gas boilers when the newly designed parabolic trough collector are used.
It is a unique approach within the DOE’s SunShot initiative. The goal of the initiative is to drive down the cost of utility-scale solar electricity production to 0.06 USD/kWh. As part of SunShot, COLLECTS is a new programme that “provides the framework for post-2020 technical and cost-reduction goals,” the website says.
Besides Sunvapor, three other US-based technology companies and two universities received COLLECTS funding in July: Agira (Massachusetts), Giant Leap Technologies and Hyperlight Energy (both from California), as well as the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the University of California, San Diego.
Companies and initiatives mentioned in this article:
Hyperlight Energy: http://www.hyperlightenergy.com/
Giant Leap Technologies: http://www.giant-leap-tech.com