Engineers at various universities have developed a new type of hybrid solar converter, which uses the sun’s energy to produce both electricity and steam.

The new device has high efficiency and operates at low cost, allowing industry to use solar power in a wider spectrum.

The most common way to capture energy from the sun is photovoltaic power. These solar cells generate electricity from sunlight and are so simple that they are built into everything from garden lights to the grid itself.

But this is not the only way. Solar concentrators collect heat instead of light, concentrating the sun’s rays to heat a fluid. This can be used to generate electricity, for example, in the form of steam that spins a turbine, or more directly, to heat homes or for other industrial processes.

Usually these two systems are separate, but attempts have been made to couple them into single hybrid devices, which often results in lower efficiency or higher cost.

But now researchers claim to have created a new hybrid solar power converter that combines the best of both worlds.

The device looks like a satellite dish, with a small device suspended in the center of a parabolic trough. The antenna part is reflected and focuses the sun’s rays on the central box. The lower part of this section contains multi-junction solar cells, which collect and convert visible and ultraviolet light into electricity.

But the smart thing is that these cells redirect infrared light – thermal energy – to a separate thermal receiver, above the device. This receiver is essentially a cup-shaped cavity surrounded by pressurized water, which captures heat and turns it into steam.

The team claims that the total harvesting efficiency is 85.1%, which means that a very large amount of solar energy is converted into electricity or heat.

Steam can be heated up to 248 ° C, which is a much higher temperature than many other thermal energy collectors. Enough for many industrial processes, such as drying, curing, sterilization and pasteurization.

The other advantage is the cost. The team says that once scaled up, the hybrid device could run for as little as 3 cents per kilowatt hour.

The team, which consists of researchers from Tulane University, University of San Diego, San Diego State University, Boeing-Spectrolab, and Otherlab, received funding for the next development cycle and plans to refine the technology and work on its expansion for pilot plant testing.

More information: news.tulane.eduwww.cell.com