The problem with solar energy is that it’s so unbelievably appetizing. I mean, the sun is just sitting there, not carrying its weight, and here we have the technology to just absorb its lounging and convert it into the most valuable resource on Earth, which is energy. This is only a “problem” because there’s often a disconnect between the public, who see solar panels running radio control toys, calculators, batteries, even cars and houses, and the reality that solar energy largely still can’t compete (in terms of cost-effectiveness) with fossil fuels and other sources for providing large-scale energy needs.
Now it appears OSU scientists may have broken open a floodgate with their microchannel systems technology to improve solar generator efficiency.
Kevin Drost is a now retired associate professor of mechanical engineering at OSU who weighed in on the announcement in a press release.
“Our advances could open the door to a significant, 15 percent higher efficiency for solar thermal technology,” said Drost. “We’re confident that this work will meet the goals being set by the Department of Energy. With their support we’ll now move it beyond the laboratory toward a technology that could be commercialized.”
The advances Drost is referring to, the microchannels, do exactly what their name suggests. They use tiny channels and an improved distribution network to make energy move faster and with more efficiency. In other words, more for less and faster, which is the name of the game in energy production.
The microchannels also rely on supercritical carbon dioxide, which allows them to work at the extremely high temperatures that they require. These microchannels are only a quarter of the size of current industry standards, so the gains are quite palpable.
So size does matter, and it looks like the future is all about being tiny.
By Sidney Reilly