More Efficient Solar Energy

For this week’s featured ENGS 89/90 project, I spoke to Chloe Maria Ruiz-Funes about what she’s doing and why she’s doing it.

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Chloe Maria Ruiz-Funes

Chloe’s team was tasked with building a more efficient receiver tube for concentrated solar technology. The way concentrated solar technology works today is with parabolic reflectors that focus the solar rays on a tube that contains a heat transfer fluid. The problem with the currently used tubes is that they’re very expensive, not very durable, and can’t get up to very high temperatures. This is a problem because the tubes must always maintain a vacuum to be efficient and energy is lost if they can’t be heated to very high temperatures.

The group is focusing its efforts on a better tube design that will yield lower tube costs, a reduction in the tubes’ infiltration rates, and a maximum temperature of 650 oC. The project is funded by the Department of Energy. Chloe and her group work in tandem with a group of the Department of Energy’s professional energy, research, and engineering consultants. Most of the group’s efforts are concentrated on materials research, because they believe a better material for these tubes will yield many of the results they’re looking for.

While this team did not use the machine shop because the Department of Energy as a similar lab, Chloe says that if they had they would have used it to mold tubes, cut them in half, and heat them up to test the different materials’ durability.

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