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Inflatable solar chimney to power ALMA observatory in desert

3 years ago19 views

Originally published on November 22, 2013

Swedish aeronaut Per Lindstrand is developing an inflatable chimney that harnesses energy from rising hot air to provide a photovoltaic generation alternative in remote areas where installation of power lines and solar panels is difficult.

Power lines cannot be sustainably maintained in the Atacama Desert in Chile due to its sandy winds and frequent earthquakes. Solar panels are especially susceptible to clog ups by the fine grains of sand in the wind.

The alternative, 1-kilometre long chimney built upon a canopy with a 7-kilometre radius, captures solar energy in the form of heat. Air heated by the sun rises up from beneath the canopy, driving turbines as it moves through the chimney.

Compared to a metal equivalent, this system is considerably less expensive and much easier to install.

"The advantages with inflatables is you manufacture directly from the cutting table; you don't have things like a metal structure that has to be jigged up and welded so it's a lot quicker and easier to make things in fabric and to make changes," Lindstrand said in an Engineer report.

This system is expected to generate enough to supply a 130MW power station, producing 281Wh of electricity per year to power the ALMA space observatory in the Atacama Desert.

A major challenge is to develop a strong material that can support the high tension at the base of the chimney to withstand high winds.

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