Engineering Students Tackle Solar Tower

While Australians may begin construction on a solar tower as early as this year, engineering students at the University of Arizona are already at work on a project to discover the optimum specifications for one of these large-scale power production facilities. So far, the students have built a 12-foot tall scale model that will allow them to test some of their theories concerning the relationship between the size of such structures and the amount of power they can produce:

The students’ tower has a circular collector constructed from a surplus trampoline frame covered with transparent Mylar. The chimney is a length of ABS pipe and their generator is a tiny cell phone motor modified to run in reverse. The motor originally powered a vibration alert mechanism in the phone.

A cone at the base of he tower helps to direct the airflow so it doesn’t meet a 90-degree bend at the junction of the horizontal collector surface and vertical tower. "We tried to keep the flow as efficient as possible," [senior engineering student Andy] Lovelace said.

While experiments at this point haven't produced the expected wind speed of 6 mph within the tower, the students already have opinions on what changes will be needed to reach maximum efficiency. This model represents only the first effort by a student team, and Professor Hermann Fasel plans to sponsor another team next Fall to build an even larger scale model and continue the work. :: innovations report via Hugg


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