While visiting MIT for graduation, I walked right past a new prototype-scale solar-thermal power plant that a group of students had built in one of the Institute’s outlaying parking lots. Given my recent coverage of the Nevada Solar One power plant (see Nevada Solar One Demonstrates Scalability of Solar Thermal Energy), I could not resist posing for a photo (below).
Fortunately, someone familiar with the project was standing guard to ensure latecomers rushing to park in the lot for gradation did not inadvertently hit the installation. So, I was able to learn a little about the power plant before dashing off to receive my Ph.D.
This solar-thermal plant was specifically designed for use in developing counties and was built using old, recycled automobile parts. The four parabolic mirrors concentrate solar energy on the black-painted pipes that run along the foci of each mirror, heating the fluid inside. In the configuration pictured, the system was set up with a heat exchanger (which I am standing in front of, unfortunately) to deliver hot water. A turbine could also be added to extract energy from the collected heat.
Researchers have been working on a number of alternative chemistries to lithium-ion for next-gen batteries, silicon-air among them. However, while the technology has been viewed as promising and cost-effective, to date researchers haven’t managed to develop a battery of this chemistry with a viable running time -- until now.
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