Solar-Powered Metalworking

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Solar power has as many applications as any other type of electricity, but it has been specifically adapted in a number of ways. BINE Information Services in Germany has recently released a report on yet another specific adaptation of solar power – metalworking.

Since industrial process heating is responsible for about 10% of Germany’s total electricity consumption, on the surface it seems like a natural choice for solar energy. In the town of Ennepetal, a metal processing plant has integrated 12 TVP (thermophotovoltaic) collectors – which track the sun’s position – into its existing steam network to take advantage of solar technology. The process is still in its early stages, and further testing and optimizing are planned. It is hoped that the procedures developed here will be particularly useful in more southern climates.

BINE’s report focuses on saturated steam – which is steam that is in equilibrium with heated water at the same pressure – which is used in many industrial production processes at a temperature of about 200°C. In the pilot plant in Ennepetal, absorbers in parabolic trough collectors directly produce steam. Without the parabolic trough collectors to concentrate the solar power, it is difficult if not impossible to generate steam at temperatures above 100°C. Using the collectors also makes it possible to avoid a specialized heat exchanger, which improves efficiency. The steam is then used, for example, to quickly heat various chemical baths to a variety of temperatures between 60°C and 110°C (here, for aluminum refinement). Again, the solar steam generators have been directly integrated into the existing systems.

The initial results are labeled by BINE as promising – while not much power was actually generated by the solar arrays, the integration was successful and power was produced. The groundwork has been laid for further long-term testing of what BINE calls a promising procedure for solar steam generation. Other potential uses for solar steam generation include desiccation processes, refrigeration, anything that uses conventional electricity.

BINE’s project information report – alliteratively titled “The Sunny Side of Saturated Steam” – is available for download from their website at no charge.

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