But one recent addition there isn't part of the
IBM's research arm recently announced that it has developed new technology for so-called concentrating photovoltaics, with test systems installed recently at IBM sites in
IBM's research chops in computing are well-known, but solar?
It's not such a big leap for Big Blue, says
"The technology to do photovoltaics, be it PV chips or systems, is not that much different," said Dalton, an IBM "master inventor" based in
Concentrating photovoltaics involve the use of lenses or mirrors to gather sunlight and concentrate it on PV cells. The idea is to focus the concentrated sunlight on super-high-efficiency cells, to achieve maximum power output with minimal PV material.
It's not an entirely new idea; in fact, the
The UA Tech park also is the site of a concentrating PV demonstration array invented by UA astronomy professor
Using mainly off-the-shelf components -- including so-called multijunction PV cells and Fresnel lenses -- IBM says the concentrating PV system it has developed can convert sunlight to DC electricity at a rate of 30 percent, compared with about 20 percent for typical silicon PV cells.
(While some PV cell makers, including
IBM's PV research grew out of a wide-ranging technology brainstorming event called Innovation Jam in 2006. During the three-day, global event, participants asked what IBM could do to boost renewable energy, Dalton said.
Focusing on concentrating PV, IBM built and refined systems using multifunction cells from Spectrolab and others, Fresnel lenses and a lightweight dual-axis tracking system to keep the cells pointed toward the sun.
IBM researchers then tackled one of the biggest problems with concentrating PV -- excessive heat that can degrade system efficiency.
With initial prototype systems installed in
While some concentrating PV designs feature cooling fans or even liquid radiator systems for cooling, Dalton said IBM's solution involves the finned assemblies commonly used as heat sinks in computers and other electronics.
"It's a simple fin assembly, but it's not just the fins: You have to think about the entire packaging," he said.
Together with cells made for relatively high heat tolerance, the system can keep delivering power efficiently at temperatures up to about 90 to 100 degrees Celsius (194 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit), Dalton said.
The grid-tied test rigs were installed in
While Dalton's excited about the technology, he notes IBM doesn't plan on opening a PV plant anytime soon. IBM -- the perennial world leader in patenting -- has about 25 patent applications for concentrating PV inventions pending, he said, and plans to make the technology available for licensing.
Dalton said the IBM design wouldn't be appropriate for every application but could find a niche where compact, high-energy solar arrays are needed.
It's also a tough market in general for advanced solar technologies -- just ask
In its current state of development, the IBM system's main competitive advantage is in places like
But IBM is working to optimize the system for cloudier climes, Dalton said.
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