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MIT Solar Dish Could Revolutionize Global Energy Production

Solarpower A team led by MIT students this week successfully tested a prototype of what may be the most cost-efficient solar power system in the world, which has the potential to revolutionize global energy production.

The system consists of a 12-foot-wide mirrored dish that team members have spent the last several weeks assembling. The dish, made from a lightweight frame of thin, inexpensive aluminum tubing and strips of mirror, concentrates sunlight by a factor of 1,000--creating heat so intense it could melt a bar of steel.

To demonstrate the system's power, MIT's Spencer Ahrens stood in a grassy field on the edge of the campus this week holding a long plank. Slowly, he eased it into position in front of the dish. Almost instantly there was a big puff of smoke, and flames erupted from the wood. Harry Potter wizardry? No. MIT engineering genius? Yes.

Attached to the end of a 12-foot-long aluminum tube rising from the center of the dish is a black-painted coil of tubing that has water running through it. When the dish is pointing directly at the sun, the water in the coil flashes immediately into steam.

The company the team has have founded, RawSolar, may soon produce such dishes by the thousands. They could be set up in huge arrays to provide steam for industrial processing, or for heating or cooling buildings, as well as to hook up to steam turbines and generate electricity. Once in mass production, such arrays should pay for themselves within a couple of years with the energy they produce.

"This is actually the most efficient solar collector in existence, and it was just completed," says Doug Wood, an inventor based in Washington state who patented key parts of the dish's design--the rights to which he has signed over to the student team.

Wood credits the students who built this dish, as an independent project that started in January, with making significant improvements to his original design to make it a practical and competitive energy producer. "They really have simplified this and made it user-friendly, so anybody can build it," he says.

One of the keys to making an inexpensive design was something Wood discovered by accident as he built a variety of solar dishes over the years: Smaller really is better. Unlike many technologies where economies of scale dictate large sizes, a smaller dish requires so much less support structure that it ends up costing only a third as much, for a given collecting area.

MIT Sloan School of Management lecturer David Pelly, in whose class this project first took shape last fall, says that, "I've looked for years at a variety of solar approaches, and this is the cheapest I've seen. And the key thing in scaling it globally is that all of the materials are inexpensive and accessible anywhere in the world."

Pelly adds that "I've looked all over for solar technology that could scale without subsidies. Almost nothing I've looked at has that potential. This does."

Posted by Casey Kazan. Adapted from an MIT News Office release.



well folks these chaps seem to have done the greatest service to mankind so far in our modern history.the search for cheap awesome power worldwide is absolute.lets hope a large profit making company does not take it over-- this may well save the human race.

What happens at night? No energy, I suppose. This however, is NOT new. This technology was aired on PBS' Nova several months ago. In the desert of CA, AZ, or Nevada they already are using this tech on a massive scale. However, it stops producing energy every night...

Good idea nonetheless.


Uh ok so how did they suck the energy out and use it? You know this sort of thing has been done in the Az desert and is currently sitting idle. Why would that be? Could it be it does not pay???? Probably. Until you can do something constructive with the energy its simply Odd Todds science fair project. ....i yi yi...liberals. Selling vaporware!

I am guessing that the steam would run a generator to charge batteries to store energy for night time use

um, also... what happens to the steam after it's done spinning the turbines for electricity? does it go to a cooling tower to be re-condensed or does it exhaust into the atmosphere as one of the most potent "hothouse gases" that exists?........ is it recycled into the boilers or do they use the "cheaper" solution of pumping water out of the ground as a source? ...... so why don't they use the molten-salt technique of the desert-based generators? ........... sorry; couldn't resist harasssing MIT... i'm an RPI grad....

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