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New EU-funded project targets 'home-made energy'

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EU-funded researchers have embarked on a project to develop mini solar power systems that will allow homes and workplaces alike to generate their own electricity and meet their heating and cooling requirements. Called DIGESPO ('Distributed CHP [combined heat and power] generation from small size concentrated solar power'), the 3-year project has been allocated EUR 3.2 million in funding under the Energy Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). Its aim is to create a prototype system capable of converting 60% to 70% of harnessed solar radiation into heat and electricity.
The system is based on concentrated solar power technology, in which parabola-shaped troughs concentrate the sun's rays on to a receiver that converts the solar energy into heat. A tracking mechanism allows these devices to follow the sun as it moves across the sky. Currently, concentrated solar power technologies are deployed in large plants where they generate enough power for thousands of homes. However, recent technological advances mean that it is now possible to develop small-scale systems that can be fitted to individual buildings.
In the DIGESPO project, small parabolic elements just 40 centimetres across are mounted on the roof of the building. These concentrate the sun's energy onto a tube through which a heat transfer fluid flows. The temperature of the fluid rises to around 300°C, and this activates an engine connected to the system which produces electricity and heating or cooling.
The system is designed to have a low visual impact and can be fitted to single or multiple homes as well as to commercial, industrial and public buildings.
'The system is already being developed,' commented DIGESPO Scientific Coordinator Luigi Crema of the Renewable Energies Environmental Technologies (REET) Unit at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK) in Italy. 'FBK will provide a fundamental contribution to the development of the thermodynamic engine, to the study of the high-temperature heat transfer fluids, and to the material for converting the solar radiation into thermal energy.
'The first prototype will be available in 18 months time and will be tested in Trentino [Italy], at the FBK laboratories, and at the Hilton Hotel in Malta,' said Mr Crema. 'A more advanced version will be developed and commissioned in the middle of 2012.'
According to the project partners, rising gas prices mean there is an urgent need for mini CHP systems based on energy sources other than natural gas. In the longer term, FBK has a vision of an integrated system in which buildings are able to generate more energy than they consume. Once the concentrated solar CHP system is complete, FBK hopes to start working on other areas like biomass systems, for example.
'DIGESPO [...] is part of an overall vision of research that the REET Units at the FBK have been engaged in developing over the last few years, as a result of which the FBK is becoming internationally renowned in this sector,' said Alessandro Bozzoli, head of FBK's REET Unit. 'Our goal is to accomplish a complex technological system, based on new technologies capable of integrating different renewable energy sources, to help buildings gain a certain degree of energy self-sufficiency. The forecasted technological impact is enormous, at both the local and the European and, indeed, international levels. The programme relating to energy for buildings is consistent with the European programmes and objectives in this sector.'
The project brings together seven partners across Europe: the FBK, Projects in Motion Ltd (Malta), Electronic Machining SRL (Italy), Narva Lichtquellen GmbH + Co. KG (Germany), Sustainable Engine Systems Ltd (UK), the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) and Uppsala University (Sweden).
For more information, please visit: Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK):
To download the project information sheet on CORDIS, please click here.