Focusing energy increases productivity: it’s true for people, so no surprise it’s true for the sun, as a unique device called a solar concentrator demonstrates. Lakeland College’s Centre for Sustainable Innovation site is now home to a solar concentrator prototype, which can concentrate the sun’s energy to temperatures in excess of 2,000 °C, hot enough to melt metal.
The concentrator works by reflecting the sun’s light from one mirror to a curved mirror, which in turn concentrates the light into a focused circular beam aimed at a target. Controlling and directing the beam is done by tilting the mirrors and adjusting the vertical and horizontal position of the target for maximum effect. The concentrator uses solar-tracking sensors and two motors to follow the sun.
Work being done with the concentrator includes Lakeland researchers making various types of targets to evaluate their performance on different industrial tasks, such as drying materials or heating liquids and gases. The first target tested was for heating water; it consisted of a metal plate covered in coiled copper tubing, which intercepted the concentrated sunlight at its focal point. The temperature of water flowing through the tube could be raised from 15° C to upwards of 70° C in a matter of seconds.
When it’s concentrated, solar energy can reach the high temperatures required by some industrial processes, which opens many more opportunities for harnessing the sun’s power. Testing will continue on exploring potential uses for concentrated sunlight.