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3M and Gossamer Space Frames set a new benchmark in solar collectors


2 May 2012

The Renewable Energy Division of 3M and Gossamer Space Frames have revealed new technology that will play a key role in significantly reducing the cost of a solar technology and may ultimately provide power to Europe, including the UK, from locations like the Sahara desert.

Concentrated solar plants (CSP), which have been described as “the technology that will save humanity”[i] use massed banks of parabolic mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy on a single point and generate intense heat.  This is used to heat water and create steam which in turn drives a turbine and generates electricity.

Spain has pioneered CSP development and, while the technology is still currently best suited to desert regions where land is inexpensive and the sun is strong, they have enormous potential.  It is estimated that CSP plants covering just 0.3 per cent of the surface area of North Africa’s Sahara Desert could meet the whole of Europe’s electricity needs and the Desertec Industrial Initiative planned for the Sahara aims to provide Europe with 15 per cent of its power by 2050.  Electricity from the deserts could be transferred to population centres thousands of miles away using high-voltage direct-current cables

Steven Powell, Business Manager - Renewable Energy Division for 3M in the UK and Ireland said that CSP development was exciting and demonstrated the possibilities for solar concentrating technology.

“This is just one of the many solar energy products which 3M is developing,” he said. 

“One of the other technologies we are starting to commercialise is Ultra Barrier Solar Films which help to enable lightweight, flexible, photovoltaic modules.  Traditional solar panels which you see on the roofs of houses are relatively heavy, inflexible units but Ultra Barrier Solar Films are helping the development of the next generation of high efficiency, lightweight and flexible photovoltaic modules.

“We have also developed 3M Scotchshield Film Backsheets which help to protect against the effects of moisture, heat and UV rays which can damage traditional photovoltaic modules.”

Today’s announcement reveals technology designed to significantly reduce equipment and installation costs for CSP systems used in power generation.  The Large Aperture Trough 73 (LAT 73) features a concentration factor of over 100x and an aperture size of 7.3 m, both world benchmarks for the industry.  The system combines the durability, design flexibility, and high reflectivity of 3M Solar Mirror Film 1100 with the mechanical design innovations of Gossamer Space Frames; the result is a CSP solar collector system that reduces the installed cost of a parabolic trough solar field by more than 25 per cent. 

This system’s technical and economic viability is enabled by 3M Solar Mirror Film 1100 reflector panels, which are 50 per cent lighter than glass, and offer 94.5 per cent reflectivity (solar weighted total hemispherical reflectance). The combination of the film’s superior optical performance and light weight enables the high accuracy, large aperture collector design.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has verified performance of the system, measuring an optical accuracy of more than 99 per cent.

For more than a decade 3M has been supplying innovative materials to the solar industry to enhance performance, improve reliability and drive down the cost. Its key products and technologies include films, tapes, adhesives and coatings.

3M and Scotchshield are trademarks of 3M Company.


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[i] Originally stated by Salon.com, cited by Greenpeace