Alcoa, National Renewable Energy Lab, Test New Solar Technology

Goal is making concentrating solar power technology cost competitive

Alcoa announced on March 18 that it is jointly testing an advanced solar technology with the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), with the goal of making Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) technology competitive in the United States by lowering its cost to generate energy.

NREL and Alcoa recently installed a new Alcoa-designed Concentrating Solar Power parabolic trough at NREL's test facility in Golden, Colo. The series of tests will measure the 20-foot by 46-foot collector's efficiency to generate energy and evaluate its structural performance. This round of validation at NREL follows successful tests at Alcoa Technical Center outside of Pittsburgh, Pa.

Currently, commercial Concentrating Solar Power systems installed use glass mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect the solar energy and convert it to heat. This thermal energy can then be used to produce utility scale electricity via a steam turbine. Instead of glass mirrors, the new Alcoa solution uses highly-reflective aluminum mirrors, which are more durable and environmentally-friendly than fragile glass-based mirrors.

The Alcoa design solution enables high-volume manufacturing techniques to lower installation costs, plus its monolithic structure enables a simple "drop-in-place" collector for easy installation. The design includes sheet, extrusions and fasteners.

"We understand the end-customers' need to lower the capital investment in these systems in order to lower the cost of energy," said Dr. Eric F. M. Winter, Alcoa's Director of Development Laboratories. "After listening to numerous industry experts, our multi-faceted team combined its materials knowledge with design, manufacturing and engineered finishes capabilities to develop a system solution that enables manufacturers to more easily scale up to meet the growing demand for this solar technology."

One of the benefits of Concentrating Solar Power technology is that thermal energy can be stored and drawn upon during short periods of clouds and at night.

The project is being partially funded by a $2.1 million DOE grant. Test results are expected by the second quarter of 2010, after which the system will enter its next level of large-scale testing.

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