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13 Jan 2012: More Efficient Solar Design
Draws Inspiration from a Sunflower

Finding inspiration in the structure of a sunflower, a group of scientists has designed a concentrated solar power plant (CSP) that will require 20 percent less land than existing plants while increasing the
Sunflower Inspires MIT Solar Design
Shutterstock
amount of sunlight its solar mirrors are able to collect. At the sprawling CSP plants already in use worldwide, hundreds of mirrors are arranged around a central tower, concentrating sunlight on the tower to heat water and generate electricity. But the current designs, in which the mirrors are staggered, create unnecessary amounts of shadowing and blocking of sunlight, according to a team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and RWTH Aachen University in Germany. Their new design, which is described in the journal Solar Energy, instead arranges the mirrors at angles of about 137 degrees to each other, similar to the florets of a sunflower, a pattern that increases total efficiency. “If we’re talking about going to 100 percent or even 10 percent renewables, we will need huge areas,” said Alexander Mitsos, an MIT researcher. “So we better use them efficiently.”

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