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MIT Researchers Create a Way to Generate Heat and Electricity From Solar Energy

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:09 AM
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by Matt Smith last modified Oct 24, 2011

One of the drawbacks to current solar energy systems is that they can only produce heat or electricity, not both at the same time. Researchers at MIT have found a solution to that problem and outlined a technique that can accomplish just that.




 

 

One of the drawbacks to current solar energy systems is that they can only produce heat or electricity, not both at the same time. Researchers at MIT have found a solution to that problem and outlined a technique that can accomplish just that.

In an article published in Solar Energy, associate professor Evelyn Wang and graduate student Nenad Miljkovic explain how you can embed thermoelectric devices into a parabolic trough. Or, in simpler terms, devices designed to produce an electric current from temperature gradient can be put into solar thermal energy collectors, which allows them to create both electricity and heat.

At the moment, parabolic troughs heat water placed in a tube in the center of the trough with mirrors that reflect and amplify solar energy. The water is converted into steam, which can either power a turbine to create electricity, or heat a room. Using Wang and Miljkovic’s design, you would put a thermoelectric system within the glass tube, allowing the trough to create both electric and thermal energy at the same time. The key to making this work is a device called a thermosiphon that draws heat away from the “cold” part of a thermoelectric system, maintaining its temperature gradient.



 

 

 
 
 

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