Sunflower Inspired Solar Plant Design Devised


Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants like Gemsolar and PS10 employ the heliostat layouts to focus on a large sun rays area onto a small area. The concentrated light so collected is converted into heat to generate electricity. However, large areas are required to make CSP plants economically feasible which is not always a logical solution.

Researchers at  MIT and RWTH Aachen University in Germany have devised a nature-inspired design that occupies a much smaller area but at the same time captures more sunlight than the current CSP plants.

As the designs of heliostat layouts were reworked at MIT, researchers noted that the layouts functioned efficiently because of the spiral elements similar to those found in nature. The researchers also found that focusing the array of mirrors similar to the spiral patterns on the sunflower’s face helps increase the possible amount of energy generation. Furthermore, the land needed to arrange the heliostats also crunched by 33% of conventional CSP plants.

The sunflower pattern removed obstacles like blocking and shading by neighbouring heliostats along with allowing for a compact layout. According to the researchers’ calculations, the florets on the sunflower head in a natural Fermat spiral pattern, tilt at an angle of 137°. This pattern helped eradicate the shading and blocking issue commonly faced by heliostats in most CSP fields.

MIT’s Alexander Mitsos, the Rockwell International Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Corey Noone SM ‘11, and Manuel Torrilhon of RWTH Aachen carried out the research which will be published in the Solar Energy Journal. The team has also filed for patent protection for their results.

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