skip to main content

Title: Scattering Solar Thermal Concentrators

This program set out to explore a scattering-based approach to concentrate sunlight with the aim of improving collector field reliability and of eliminating wind loading and gross mechanical movement through the use of a stationary collection optic. The approach is based on scattering sunlight from the focal point of a fixed collection optic into the confined modes of a sliding planar waveguide, where it is transported to stationary tubular heat transfer elements located at the edges. Optical design for the first stage of solar concentration, which entails focusing sunlight within a plane over a wide range of incidence angles (>120 degree full field of view) at fixed tilt, led to the development of a new, folded-path collection optic that dramatically out-performs the current state-of-the-art in scattering concentration. Rigorous optical simulation and experimental testing of this collection optic have validated its performance. In the course of this work, we also identified an opportunity for concentrating photovoltaics involving the use of high efficiency microcells made in collaboration with partners at the University of Illinois. This opportunity exploited the same collection optic design as used for the scattering solar thermal concentrator and was therefore pursued in parallel. This system was experimentally demonstrated tomore » achieve >200x optical concentration with >70% optical efficiency over a full day by tracking with <1 cm of lateral movement at fixed latitude tilt. The entire scattering concentrator waveguide optical system has been simulated, tested, and assembled at small scale to verify ray tracing models. These models were subsequently used to predict the full system optical performance at larger, deployment scale ranging up to >1 meter aperture width. Simulations at an aperture widths less than approximately 0.5 m with geometric gains ~100x predict an overall optical efficiency in the range 60-70% for angles up to 50 degrees from normal. However, the concentrator optical efficiency was found to decrease significantly with increasing aperture width beyond 0.5 m due to parasitic waveguide out-coupling loss and low-level absorption that become dominant at larger scale. A heat transfer model was subsequently implemented to predict collector fluid heat gain and outlet temperature as a function of flow rate using the optical model as a flux input. It was found that the aperture width size limitation imposed by the optical efficiency characteristics of the waveguide limits the absolute optical power delivered to the heat transfer element per unit length. As compared to state-of-the-art parabolic trough CPV system aperture widths approaching 5 m, this limitation leads to an approximate factor of order of magnitude increase in heat transfer tube length to achieve the same heat transfer fluid outlet temperature. The conclusion of this work is that scattering solar thermal concentration cannot be implemented at the scale and efficiency required to compete with the performance of current parabolic trough CSP systems. Applied within the alternate context of CPV, however, the results of this work have likely opened up a transformative new path that enables quasi-static, high efficiency CPV to be implemented on rooftops in the form factor of traditional fixed-panel photovoltaics.« less
ORCiD logo [1]
  1. Pennsylvania State Univ., State College, PA (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park, PA (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Solar Energy Technologies Office (EE-4S)
Country of Publication:
United States
14 SOLAR ENERGY; Solar concentration; microtracking; scattering; thermal; CSP; CPV