What did you make and why is it cool?
This is a solar concentrator, and it's cool because it is a relatively simple way to build a device to heat water using the energy of the sun. Students in MECH 420 (Solar Thermal Systems) designed and built a two-axis tracking dish concentrator that focuses light on to a heat exchanger to heat water (all the way to steam on a good day). The reflective surface of the concentrator is a Mylar sheet, like a space blanket, that was curved by pulling a vacuum on the back side of it. The purpose of the project was to highlight some of the main design principles of concentrating solar power systems.
How did you get started?
We got started on this because I wanted a real design problem for the students to work on to see class principles in action. And also it's useful for future iterations of the class and community demonstrations of solar power.
We're now using the flexible concentrator as a test platform that could lead to lower cost, utility scale solar power systems. We're using this to improve solar energy use for everyone.