New Hybrid Solar Converter Uses Heat and Sunlight to Amass Energy

The device works at 85% efficiency and converts energy to create electricity and steam.
Fabienne Lang
Hybrid solar energy converterMatthew Escarra/Tulane Unversity

A new hybrid device now exists that converts solar energy using the Sun's energy to create electricity as well as steam. 

It sounds ideal as it also runs on low costs and works in a highly efficient way, enabling the energy industry to utilize solar energy in a larger way. 

The team of researchers is from Tulane University and published its findings in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science.


Capturing the Sun's energy

Collecting energy from the Sun through photovoltaics, or regular solar panels, is the most typical method. There are also solar concentrators that harness the Sun's heat instead of its light to create energy, a method which can be used to create electricity. 

Generally, these two methods are used separately. There have been hybrid devices that attempt to do both simultaneously, but up until now these have not been cost-effective and have harnessed lower amounts of energy. 

Now, the team at Tulane University has managed to create one hybrid device that consolidates both of these methods without costing an arm and a leg, and that still manages to harvest a strong amount of energy. 

There is a dish part of the device that is mirrored, focusing the Sun's rays into a box in the middle. Then the bottom of this section has multi-junction solar cells, which is the part that collects and converts visible and ultraviolet light into electricity. 

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Then, the pièce de resistance is that these cells redirect the heat energy over to a separate thermal receiver. The device then captures the heat and turns it into steam. 

As per the team, the device has a total collection efficiency of 85.1% — a high number. The steam captured can be heated up to 248 degrees Celcius (478 degrees Fahrenheit) — a much higher degree than most other thermal energy collectors around. 

All of this means that this hybrid device is strong enough to work at industrial levels. 

On top of this already-impressive information, it's cost-effective. Once it's fully scaled up, the device could run at three cents per kilowatt hour. 

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