IBM Reveal Extra-Efficient Solar Microchip to Power Desalination Plants
IBM has unveiled a water-cooled microchip that produces solar energy at greater efficiencies than most cells and the waste water can be used to power desalination facilities. This is an extension of technology currently used in Zurich to cool microchips in their computers.
The Zurich-based SuperMUC computer contains the microchips, and when water travels through them, it carries away heat. This heat is used to keep buildings warm, and IBM has applied the same concept to Concentrated Photovoltaic (CPV) cells.
The trick with a concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) system like IBM’s is to place a high-performance electricity-generating solar cell array at the focal point of a dish that collects sunlight (unlike a solar concentrator, which focuses a field of sun-tracking mirrors onto a steam generator that drives a turbine). In IBM’s CPV system, water gushes through the base of the solar cells, cooling them to a temperature where they convert sunlight to electricity most efficiently. This beats regular solar power in two ways: it guarantees optimum efficiency and creates hot water that can be used for any purpose – with a multi-effect boiling desalination process being IBM’s choice.
Although the technology is still being perfected, IBM invited what Gizmodo called “begoggled journalists” to see a demonstration. An array of these cells are placed on a 1.5 meter dish onto which sunlight is concentrated at 150 times its normal intensity. Water flushed through the array cools down the cells, optimizing their efficiency performance.
Currently, the prototype has an 18% efficiency rate. IBM says that is decent efficiency for a prototype. IBM’s next aim with the technology is refine it so it is able to concentrate sunlight at 5,000 times and reach efficiencies of 40%.That would truly revolutionize the photovoltaics industry.
After this has been achieved, IBM plan to use the technology for desalination plants. Instead of wasting the water that is used to cool down the electronics, the firm hopes to use it in desalination applications.
Solar-powered desalination plants are finally beginning to replace the standard, energy-intensive reverse osmosis technology, but now IBM is introducing a whole new concept that would be especially good in regions that have an excess of sunlight but a perilous shortage of water.