One of the semifinalists in the 2012 CleanTech Open is developing a unique solar concentrator that is capable of reducing the surface area needed for photovoltaic (PV) panels by a factor of 1000, can harvest the thermal energy generated in its enclosed design, and is made from 50% post-consumer recycled plastic.
SolenSphere is working to commercialize their patented hybrid solar concentrator, which is claimed to be able to capture 72% of the sun's energy falling on it by focusing the sunlight on PV cells engineered to use concentrated light, as well as being able to capture solar thermal energy within the device. The company also says their concentrated solar energy system will be cost-competitive with traditional flat-panel PV units, and because of the addition of solar thermal, are more efficient overall.
The company's patented polycarbonate SolarConcentrator® is based on a Cassegrain reflector design, using two reflectors to concentrate the sunlight falling on it - one large parabolic dish reflects the light onto a smaller dish above it, which then focuses the concentrated beam of light onto a PV chip capable of efficiently using that concentrated solar energy. According to SolenSphere, their device produces electricity at almost 40% efficiency, and when combined with the thermal energy captured by the concentrator, approaches a total electrical and heat energy efficiency of 72%.
SolenSphere was founded by Corbyn Jahn and Adam Burwell, students of Renewable Energy Engineering at Oregon Tech, and is currently self-funded, although their participation in the 2012 CleanTech Open may help the company to secure both funding and mentors to take this solar technology to the next level.