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.
Two researchers from Cornell University have won a $100,000 grant from NASA to continue work to develop an energy-harvesting robotic eel the space agency aims to use to explore oceans on one of the moons of Jupiter.
Is the factory smarter than it used to be? From recent buzzwords, you’d think we’ve entered a new dimension in industrial plants, where robots run all physical functions wirelessly and humans do little more than program ever more capable robotics. Some of that is actually true, but it’s been true for a while.
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