Mirror, Mirror, Make Me a Kayak…out of Sunlight

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

 
LightManufacturing's solar powered plastic rotomolder

Talk about cutting out the middleman! A California company called LightManufacturing has figured out a way to fire up a plastic molding process with a concentrated solar power system, and the kicker is the system has no solar cells to generate electricity. Instead, heliostats (aka mirrors) provide all the direct solar thermal energy needed to melt plastic pellets into a kayak, lawn furniture, or other plastic product.

Roto-Molding and Fossil Fuels

The molding process itself, called rotational molding or spin casting, is a standard industrial process that consists of heating plastic pellets in mold affixed to a rotating device, which sits in an oven-like space. When exposed to heat, the melting pellets coat the inside of the spinning mold to a uniform thickness.

The process is economical as far as manufacturing systems go, but it is energy intensive. LightManufacturing estimates that energy to heat the ovens can add up to 30 percent to the final cost of a product.

Conventional roto-molding poses a particular dilemma for manufacturers of green products, such as recycling bins and water barrels. The typical roto-molding oven is heated with natural gas, and that involves the manufacturer in a raft of unsavory issues associated with the natural gas drilling method known as fracking.

That includes water contamination, methane emissions from drilling sites, earthquakes, and other phenomena best avoided by companies trying to build a socially and environmentally responsible image.

 
Chip in a few dollars a month to help support independent cleantech coverage that helps to accelerate the cleantech revolution!
 

Heliostats and Solar-Powered Manufacturing

A roto-molding system that operates on alternative energy would eliminate all of that negativity, and heliostats provide a cost-effective means of obtaining clean energy from the sun.

In a conventional concentrated solar power system, an array of heliostats focuses sunlight on a central tower. Heat from the tower is eventually transferred to a turbine that generates electricity.

In LightManufacturing’s molding process, the heliostats focus sunlight directly on the ovens. The end result is a system that costs less than typical gas-fired roto-molding systems.

Part of the savings is due to the heliostats themselves, which were selected for their low price, efficiency, and durability. They can be flat-packed, which also saves money on shipping.

Another part of the savings comes from a wireless control system that enables the heliostats to catch the maximum amount of light as the sun moves across the sky. The software can be run from any laptop, which provides another layer of efficiency and mobility for facility managers.

Also helping to save costs is the system’s scalability. Since no central tower is involved, the heliostat array can be scaled down enough to fit on or near the property of a small manufacturing facility, or scaled up for larger operations.

Manufacturing the Future

LightManufacturing’s system dovetails neatly with President Obama’s manufacturing initiatives, which are designed to help the U.S. manufacturing sector compete in a future defined by alternative energy, energy efficiency, and advanced systems, including wireless technology and robotics.

Also boosting the system’s green cred is its adaptability to different plastic feedstocks, including recycled plastic, biodegradable plastic, and bio-plastic, as well as conventional pellets.

Image: Courtesy of LightManufacturing.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.


Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Latest CleanTechnica TV Video


I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
 
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
 
Thank you!

Advertisement
 
CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3240 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey