Carbon capture using sunlight and mirrors

May 03, 2023

(Nanowerk News) Researchers at the Norwegian science institute SINTEF are currently working to build a pilot solar power plant that can float on water. The factory will utilize technology that captures what is called concentrated sunlight.

“The concept is based on standard solar radiation technology, but also uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight and direct it onto a very efficient solar panel”, explains Martin Bellmann, a Research Scientist at SINTEF.

This plant is built in such a way that it can be rotated in the water using a propeller. This will allow the solar panels to track the sun and thereby capture as much sunlight as possible. This is how the researchers envision a floating solar panel array installed in an industrial facility. (Illustration: Svalin Solar)

Generates electricity and heat

Concentrated sunlight will generate a lot of heat. It will be collected by the plant using heat transfer fluid flowing in pipes connected to the solar panels.

“In today’s floating solar energy plants, this heat is lost by using water to cool the solar panels,” says Bellmann. “But this plant is unique because it retains both heat and electricity,” he explained.

Combined with a heat pump

The electricity and heat generated by the solar energy generator will be used in the carbon capture facility. However, since the heat from the solar power plant does not reach a high enough temperature, it will be connected to a heat pump which SINTEF will also develop.

“The aim of the pilot is to demonstrate a solar-assisted carbon capture system that fully or partially generates the thermal energy required for gas separation,” said Bellmann. Diagram illustrating the concept of a floating solar energy generator that generates electricity and heat Diagram illustrating the concept of a floating solar energy generator that generates electricity and heat. It is installed with parabolic mirrors and ultra-efficient solar panels. (Illustration: SINTEF) (click image to enlarge)

Facilitate carbon capture

SINTEF plans to develop a solar energy plant in cooperation with the Norwegian company Svalin Solar, which is currently producing a small-scale version of such a facility.

“We are currently working on the design and upgrade of the Svalin solar power plant,” said Bellmann. “We will be buying components soon and hope to build a pilot facility this summer,” he said.

“Initially, the plant will be tested on dry land as part of a SINTEF-operated carbon capture facility at Tiller, just outside Trondheim. This is where we will demonstrate the potential of the system”, says Bellmann.

To help European heavy industry

However, the long-term goal of the project, called TRINEFLEX, is to develop a system that will help Europe’s heavy industry become more sustainable.

“This is a major EU-funded, four-year project launching in September 2022,” explains Bellmann. “Our main goal is to enable heavy industry to implement the transition and achieve its sustainability goals by integrating renewable energy and digitalization. Heavy industry operates with relatively large energy requirements that will be met by solar energy from plants like these that generate electricity and heat,” he said.

The project operates with 28 partners, including SINTEF, and a budget of EUR 19.3 million.

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