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IBM's solar concentrator can produce energy, clean water and AC

Lucas Mearian | Sept. 25, 2014
IBM Research and Switzerland-based Airlight Energy today announced a new parabolic dish that increases the sun's radiation by 2,000 times while also producing fresh water and air conditioning.

"In order to obtain these three separate functions [energy, potable water and a heating or cooling system] you'd need three different products. This is where cost efficiency comes from," Besozzi said.

IBM and Airlight claim the CPV system could provide eight to 10 gallons of drinkable water per square meter of receiver area per day, while still generating electricity with a more than 25% yield or two kilowatt hours per day — "a little less than half the amount of water the average person needs per day."

"A large multi-dish installation could provide enough water for a town," the companies said in their marketing material.

Because it's still in the pilot phase,, the companies are not disclosing prices, Besozzi said. But because the parabolic dish is also constructed of less expensive concrete and aluminum, its cost is four to five times cheaper than comparable systems. Typically, CPV systems are made of glass and aluminum.

The parabolic dish has 36 elliptic mirrors made of 0.2 millimeter thick recyclable aluminum foil with a silver coating. The foil is slightly thicker than a chocolate bar wrapper.

The photovoltaic chips, similar to those used on orbiting satellites, are mounted on microstructured layers that pipe treated water within a few tens of micrometers of the chip to absorb the heat and draw it away, "10 times more effectively than with passive air cooling," according to IBM.

Based on its current design, IBM scientists estimate that the operating lifetime for the PVT structure is up to 60 years with proper maintenance

Over those six decades, however, the foil and the aluminium elliptic mirrors will need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years depending on the environment. And the photovoltaic cells need replacement every 25 years, the company noted.


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