Nanoparticles improve solar collection efficiency

April 5, 2011

UsingĀ  graphite nanoparticles (found in soot), mechanical engineers at Arizona State University hope to boost the efficiency and profitability of solar power plants.

The nanoparticles are black, and therefore absorb light very well, making them efficient heat collectors. So the researchers mixed the nanoparticles into the heat-transfer oils normally used in solar thermal power plants. In laboratory tests with small dish collectors, the nanoparticles increased heat-collection efficiency by up to 10 percent. The researchers estimate that this could mean up to $3.5 million dollars per year more revenue for a 100 megawatt solar power plant.

Graphite nanoparticles are cheap — less than $1 per gram — but 100 grams of nanoparticles provide the same heat-collecting surface area as an entire football field. It might also be possible to filter out nanoparticles of soot, which have similar absorbing potential, from coal power plants for use in solar systems.

Ref.: “Applicability of nanofluids in high flux solar collectors” by Robert A. Taylor, Patrick E. Phelan, Todd P. Otanicar, Chad A. Walker, Monica Nguyen, Steven Trimble, and Ravi Prasher, appears in Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.