Sandia National Laboratories engineers have developed new fractal-like, concentrating solar power receivers for small- to medium-scale use that are up to 20% more effective at absorbing sunlight than current technology.

The work is sponsored by the Indian Government, as well as the US Department of Energy, and aims to produce technology suitable for a developing country such as India.

While most concentrating solar power facilities throughout the world are large, Sandia engineers are interested developing 1 megawatt or smaller facilities that could provide the appropriate amount of power for a small village or community.

Conventional receiver designs usually have a flat panel of tubes, or tubes arranged in a cylinder. These designs can absorb about 80 to 90% of the concentrated sunlight directed. Instead of flat panels, the new Sandia design uses a fractal shape to capture more of the incoming sunlight.

The researchers used of an additive 3D printing technique, called powder-bed fusion, to print their small-scale receiver designs, which look similar to the walls of a sound-proof room, from a high-temperature nickel alloy. This novel printing technique provided a cost-effective way to test multiple fractal designs at a small scale and can be used in the future to print entire sections of larger solar receivers.

The new design made the receivers up to 20% more effective at absorbing sunlight than current systems.