Thursday, June 26, 2008

American Solar Reactor Heads to Switzerland for Testing

Everyone may someday carry a pocketful of sunshine if the efforts of visiting researchers at a Swiss laboratory bear fruit.

While concentrated solar storage is still in its infancy and the storage systems yet mammoth, like all good technology it will trickle down into a myriad of applications from residential and eveen personal light and heat providers to doubtless some weapons platform too crispily frightful to contemplate.

A research team from Valparaiso University’s College of Engineering in Indiana will take a solar reactor they’ve designed and built from scratch to Switzerland next month to begin a series of tests at one of the world’ premier solar energy research institutes. Valparaiso is a member of the Council on Undergraduate Research.

Dr. Robert Palumbo, Jenny professor of emerging technology and one of the world’s leading solar energy researchers, and three of his undergraduate students will spend four and a half weeks at the Paul Scherrer Institute as Valparaiso’s solar energy research program enters its third year. The program was launched in August 2006 with a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the industrial feasibility of high temperature solar electrolysis – a process that has the potential to make large-scale storage and transportation of the sun’s energy practical.

“We started with nothing other than theory to design our solar reactor, so it’s exciting to reach the point where we can begin testing,” said Dr. Palumbo, who formerly served as head of the Paul Scherrer Institute’s High Temperature Solar Technology Laboratory. “Our emphasis this summer will be validating that the reactor can perform under our desired operating conditions.”

During tests, sunlight will be collected, focused and directed into Valparaiso’s reactor – a cylindrical device about three-feet long where the electrolytic process will take place. Inside the reactor, a crucible containing the chemicals involved in the electrolytic process will be heated to between 1,700 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point electrolysis will begin and separate zinc oxide into oxygen and metallic zinc.

“It will take more than one month to complete our testing of the electrolysis process and determine whether we can indeed replace electricity with solar energy on an industrial scale,” Dr. Palumbo. “This summer is the initial step in testing that will continue over the next two summers.”

After the team returns to Valparaiso in August, Dr. Palumbo and his students will take the data they’ve collected and begin making improvements to the reactor.

“I expect our testing will show us a number of improvements we can make, so that next summer we’ll have a reactor that we’re really happy with,” he said. “Then, we can concentrate more on the science of solar electrolysis.” Read full article
Image courtesy Solar Technology Laboratory, Paul Scherrer Institute, Zurich.

1 comment:

Shaun A. Saunders said...

Fantastic! (why waste yet more money on nuclear and its unsupportable promises...)