Cost Efficient Solar Dish by Students

Posted on June 23, 2008  Comments (4)

Solar Energy Dish

Low-cost system could revolutionize global energy production

A team led by MIT students this week successfully tested a prototype of what may be the most cost-efficient solar power system in the world – one team members believe has the potential to revolutionize global energy production.

The system consists of a 12-foot-wide mirrored dish that team members have spent the last several weeks assembling. The dish, made from a lightweight frame of thin, inexpensive aluminum tubing and strips of mirror, concentrates sunlight by a factor of 1,000 – creating heat so intense it could melt a bar of steel.

To demonstrate the system’s power, Spencer Ahrens, who just received his master’s in mechanical engineering from MIT, stood in a grassy field on the edge of the campus this week holding a long plank. Slowly, he eased it into position in front of the dish. Almost instantly there was a big puff of smoke, and flames erupted from the wood. Success!

Burning sticks is not what this dish is really for, of course. Attached to the end of a 12-foot-long aluminum tube rising from the center of the dish is a black-painted coil of tubing that has water running through it. When the dish is pointing directly at the sun, the water in the coil flashes immediately into steam.

Someday soon, Ahrens hopes, the company he and his teammates have founded, called RawSolar, will produce such dishes by the thousands. They could be set up in huge arrays to provide steam for industrial processing, or for heating or cooling buildings, as well as to hook up to steam turbines and generate electricity. Once in mass production, such arrays should pay for themselves within a couple of years with the energy they produce.

“This is actually the most efficient solar collector in existence, and it was just completed,” says Doug Wood, an inventor based in Washington state who patented key parts of the dish’s design–the rights to which he has signed over to the student team.

Great job students. Good luck with RawSolar. Photo (by David Chandler): Matt Ritter shows steam coming from the return hose after passing through the coil above the solar dish.

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4 Responses to “Cost Efficient Solar Dish by Students”

  1. Anonymous
    July 15th, 2008 @ 5:47 pm

    That is awesome technology. The major concern I would have with that is the safety issues of being around it. If it was controlled properly, I could see this as having the potential to produce a lot of alternative energy for our country in the future.

  2. José Basto
    July 18th, 2008 @ 7:09 am


    Just to recall a pioneer, Manoel António Gomes, (1868 to 1933), a Jesuit Priest and scientist , that lived ahead of his time. Please check

    for a photo of his huge “Solar Furnace” (that reached 3500 º Celsius!) that won two gold medals at the 1904 Universal Expo of St. Louis, plus YouTube videos describing his inventions (sorry, in Portuguese and French 😉 and recent days implementation of scale models, with physics explanations.

    Good ideas tend to surface at times of need!

    José A. Basto; Porto, Portugal

  3. Anonymous
    August 3rd, 2008 @ 8:25 am

    This is great, however the idea is not new, and there already some ideas of using solar power to heat water. I am not sure that the vision of solar energy, as a cheap, consumer based production i in this development.
    The water “middleman” can be dangerous.

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