Solar power and Arizona - back in the news.
You've got to admire a university professor who'll take a visiting Congresswoman to the rooftop of a college gym and, before her eyes, vaporize a quarter-inch hole in a piece of steel using nothing more than good old-fashioned Arizona sunshine and his newfangled 10-foot parabolic mirror.
That's precisely the little "parlor trick" regents professor of astronomy and optical sciences, Roger Angel (above, right), performed for visiting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. and University President Robert Shelton atop U of A's storied Bear Down Gym.
As reported* by Tom Beal (Arizona Daily Star - published 02.19.2009), "at Wednesday's demonstration, it took less than 10 seconds for the focused light to bore through the steel."
"Angel knows a thing or two about mirrors, being the director and driving force behind Steward Observatory Mirror Lab and its revolutionary mirror-casting process.
Those mirrors, made of expensive borosilicate glass, are spun and polished to the perfection needed to peer deep into space. They cost upward of $10 million and are not the prototype for this project.
Angel and his Mirror Lab colleagues are now going for cheap ordinary window glass, heated and shaped into a curve and coated. "The price has to be 10,000 times less than the telescope mirrors," Angel said.
His research partner, Yong-Hang Zhang of Arizona State University, will supply the relatively expensive part. Zhang is inventing the solar engine that will transform Angel's focused light into electricity — a photovoltaic cell more closely related to those used in space satellites than those collecting sunlight on your roof.
At the moment, Angel said, he can buy a pretty good solar cell and Zhang can buy a pretty good mirror, but both know they can do better. "If we both succeed," said Angel, "you get dynamite."
Now, according to Zhang, they're looking for an inexpensive, fluid-cooled, high-efficiency solar cell.
"Ordinary photovoltaic cells are expensive because their entire mass collects and makes electricity, said Zhang. The best of them are 20 percent efficient. Zhang said 40 percent efficiency is "doable" now and he hopes to improve on that.
The idea is to separate the collection part of the process from the electricity-generating part. With big, cheap mirrors and small, efficient solar cells, they hope to make photovoltaic generation cheap enough to rival burning coal or natural gas."
I don't know about you but to me that sounds suspiciously like 100% clean, renewable energy production. And (GULP!) sustainability. What will they think of next?
*Link access may require free registration.