Solar Panels Developed to Withstand Heavy Seas
A team of researchers from The Technical University of Wien in Austria have developed light-weight solar panels that can be used to build platforms spanning a hundred meters and that will remain steady and firmly in place – even in rough seas.
“The key to this is that Heliofloat is supported by open floatation devices,” explains Professor Markus Haider, from the Institute for Energy Systems and Thermodynamics. “Were a platform to be simply mounted onto air-filled, closed containers, the design of the construction would have to be inefficiently heavy and robust in order to be able to withstand heavy waves.”
The Heliofloat buoyancy units, however, are analogous to downward-facing barrels made from a soft, flexible material that floats on water. The upper section contains air that cannot escape, which enables the barrel to float; however, the air has direct contact with the water below. There is no closed air cushion, but rather an air column over the water which acts as a shock absorber. The flexible side walls of the “barrels” only absorb small, horizontal forces.
Heliofloat is supported by several of these downward-facing open air tanks, stationed below a large, even floor space. When the air tanks are correctly dimensioned, the waves rise and fall under the Heliofloat without making any significant impact on the platform, allowing the construction to float steadily just above the water. Such a construction would be impossible using closed and rigid air cushions, as these would absorb the wave energy to a much greater extent, causing the platform to sway wildly and eventually break.
This new construction allows areas the size of football fields to be made available on the water with ease. The research team has developed concepts for harnessing the sun over the water using photovoltaics and parabolically shaped mirrored troughs, with many further possible applications are also being considered.
“Heliofloat platforms offer new possibilities for desalination plants and biomass extraction processes for salt water,” says Dr Roland Eisl, Director of Heliofloat GmbH. “In hot countries, Heliofloat platforms could be utilized to protect lakes against drying up.” Although the evaporation surface becomes smaller, Heliofloat platforms allow sunlight to penetrate through to the water, ensuring the aquatic ecosystem is not negatively impacted.
Heliofloat could also be deployed in aquafarming applications, or even in the construction of sports facilities or residential homes.
The research team is in discussion with potential investors and relevant authorities and is looking for further collaborative partners and investors interested in utilizing Heliofloat platforms on a large scale.