Graphite nanoparticles get solar power plant application

Mechanical engineers at Arizona State University hope to boost the efficiency and profitability of solar power plants using graphite nanoparticles.

Robert Taylor, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at Arizona State University, said that the nanoparticles would be used in solar thermal collectors, which take the form of dishes, panels, evacuated tubes and towers that are designed to collect heat by absorbing sunlight.

To further increase the efficiency of such solar collectors, Taylor and his colleagues mixed nanoparticles into the heat-transfer oils normally used in them. The researchers chose graphite nanoparticles, in part because they are black and therefore absorb light very well, making them efficient heat collectors.

In laboratory tests with small dish collectors, Taylor and his colleagues found that nanoparticles increased heat-collection efficiency by up to 10 per cent. ’We estimate that this could mean up to $3.5m dollars per year more revenue for a 100MW solar power plant,’ he said.

Taylor said that it might also be possible to filter out nanoparticles of soot — which have similar absorbing potential — from coal power plants that could then be used in such solar systems.