MIT building low-cost solar concentrator

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS - A team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students is building a prototype power concentrator with a goal of revolutionizing the solar energy field.

Led by MIT mechanical engineering graduate student Spencer Ahrens, the team is assembling a 12-foot-square mirrored dish capable of concentrating sunlight by a factor of 1,000. But it's being built from simple, inexpensive industrial materials selected for price, durability and ease of assembly rather than for optimum performance.

Ahrens said the goal is to make a dish that, in mass production, can be competitive in cost with other energy sources and produce heat for space heating and electric power at the same time.

"The technical challenge here is to make it simple," Ahrens said. "We're using all commodity materials that are all in high production."

Ahrens said the dish, in the Sun Belt, could make about 10,000 peak watts of heat and 3,500 peak watts of electricity.

"It's designed for long life - we hope they will last more than 30 years with good maintenance - and for indigenous manufacturing in the developing world with minimal tooling," he said.


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