Concentrated solar power plants could get an efficiency boost inspired by flowers, according to MIT researchers. Designing solar mirrors in a spiral pattern similar to sunflower heads could reduce the space required for CSP plants and increase the amount of sunlight the mirrors collect.
Concentrated solar plants use an array of mirrors, called heliostats, that move with the sun as it tracks across the sky. They are installed in concentric circles and direct sunlight to a central tower, where heat is converted into electricity. There are only a few operational CSP plants in the world, partly because they require lots of space. Each heliostat must be arranged so it faces the central tower but also the sun, all without blocking another heliostat’s face. Current designs stagger the heliostats so that every other circle aligns, much like rows in a movie theater, according to MIT News.Researchers at MIT and RWTH Aachen University in Germany came up with a better way to arrange them. First they studied efficiency problems in the existing layout, finding each mirror experiences some shading and blocking problems every day. Alexander Mitsos and Corey Noone of MIT developed a computer model to bring the heliostats closer together, and they noticed the suggested patterns looked a lot like spirals found in nature. So they turned to sunflowers for further inspiration.