Wednesday, 12 June 2013

IBM applies supercomputer cooling to solar collector for 80% efficiency
25 Apr 2013

Solar power may provide a clean, abundant source of energy, but we know the sun's rays are capable of much, much more. Aside from generating electricity, we've seen solar power harnessed to produce drinkable water as well, so why not combine the two processes into one system? That's what IBM and its collaborators are hoping to do with an affordable High Concentration Photovoltaic Thermal (HCPVT) system that uses cooling technology from supercomputers to harvest solar power more efficiently, and produce purified water at the same time.

The current prototype consists of a large parabolic dish made up of several mirrors, connected to a sun-tracking system. The majority of the sunlight hitting the dish is reflected and focused onto hundreds of triple-junction photovoltaic chips, all fitted to microchannel-liquid cooled receivers. Individually, each chip measures just 1 cm x 1 cm and can generates an average of 200-250 watts over an eight-hour period on a sunny day, at an efficiency of about 30%.

Thus far, this roughly matches the electrical power output and basic design of other concentrated solar systems in existence, but the cooling system is what really makes the HCPVT system stand apart. IBM adapted the cooling technology it developed for supercomputers like Aquasar and SuperMUC for use with photovoltaics to create a system that continually pumps water just a few micrometers away from each chip through micro-structured layers.

IBM says this method is 10 times more effective than using air-cooling, and maintains a stable temperature over the chips to prevent them from melting. The cooling system would allow the chips to remain operational at 2,000 times the intensity of the sun's rays, but IBM claims it can still provide a safe temperature up to 5,000 times concentration.

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