The Larkfleet Group of Companies has secured funding to test its revolutionary renewable solar thermal system in Mexico.
Larkfleet’s ‘solar steam’ technology concentrates the power of the sun’s rays to heat water to create steam which can be used in industrial processes.
To highlight the global commercial viability of the technology following the granting of patents Larkfleet applied for funding to deliver a pre-commercial demonstration of solar steam at a site in Morelos in Mexico.
A funding application to develop the demonstration was made through the Mexico-UK Collaborative Industrial Research and Development Programme, which is sponsored by the National Science and Technology Council in Mexico (CONACYT), Innovate UK and the Newton Fund.
Larkfleet will develop the pre-commercial demonstrator in collaboration with academic and industrial partners in Mexico and with the support of Queen Mary University of London. Larkfleet will contribute £160,000 to the total project budget of £800,000. It is thought that the project will take two years to complete.
Simone Perini, project manager for the solar steam project, said: “All the contracts have been completed and signed and work is n ow beginning”.
The potential for renewable power generation using a solar steam array is greatest in sunny regions like Mexico, which is one of the fastest growing solar markets worldwide. The solar market in Mexico grew by more than 500 per cent in 2016 and has an estimated potential of between four and six gigawatts of capacity per year by 2030*.
This potential provides an opportunity for investment in solar steam to increase renewable heat input and reduce energy costs. For example, industrial facilities that use fossil fuels to provide the thermal energy required for their processes can instead install the Larkfleet solar steam collector to generate low carbon heat.
The Larkfleet solar steam system works by focussing the sun’s rays through a Fresnel lens array onto a tube which contains water. The water is heated to create steam which can be used in industrial process heating and cooling applications.
The angle of the lens array can be adjusted through a vertical axis to track the sun and is seated on a circular track which allows the array also to follow the sun’s progress horizontally across the sky. By tracking in both planes, the system maintains maximum levels of solar radiation concentrated on the tubes.
Simone Perini said: “Solar steam builds on existing ideas about using solar radiation to generate heat and takes them a step further.
“Following extensive testing in the UK – where the weather is often not ideal for solar power! – we are taking this technology to a wider market where we believe it will have a positive impact on the generation of sustainable and renewable heat.
“This collaboration with academic, commercial and international funding partners to deliver a demonstration installation in Mexico is the next step in commercial and technical development of the concept."
Dr Rafael Castrejon-Pita, lecturer in applied science in Queen Mary University of London, added: “The Innovate UK funding has delivered an excellent opportunity for an academic institution and a company to not only solve current technology problems but also to innovate and explore new opportunities of mutual interest.”
The solar steam array can also be used to generate industrial steam for industrial applications. The Carbon Trust assessed that there are currently no more than 10 solar industrial heat systems across Africa and Latin America. The industry here is set to grow by a factor of 4,600 by 2050.
Mexico is a growing economy, with good solar potential and a need for sustainable industrial development. The potential for the success of an innovative cost-effective solar technology such as the solar steam system is clear. In several sectors such as the oil, food, drink, textiles, paper, construction and chemical industries, the proportion of low and medium (less than 250o C) process heat demand is around 60 per cent.
Simone Perini added: “The first target market for our product is the Mexican industrial sector, which accounts for 32 per cent of the country’s total energy consumption. From this, 40 per cent to 60 per cent is destined to produce process heat. One of the industries with major energy consumption is the chemical industry, where most of the energy is used to generate steam for heat process applications.”