PROJECT PROFILE: University of California, Merced (Solar Desalination)

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Project Name: The Internal Compound Parabolic Concentrator – A Novel Low-Cost Solar Thermal Collection System for Desalination Processes
Funding Opportunity: Solar Desalination
SETO Subprogram: Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power
Location: Merced, CA
SETO Award Amount: $1,358,926
Awardee Cost Share: $277,133
Principal Investigator: Roland Winston

This project will develop a non-tracking solar-thermal collector and pair it with a thermal-energy storage system to generate low-cost thermal energy for desalination. Solar-thermal collectors can be stationary or follow the sun—non-tracking and tracking, respectively—but tracking collectors are costly, and non-tracking collectors are inefficient at 120°C, the temperature at which energy is generated. This non-tracking collector will have vacuum insulation and a new heat-transfer element that will enable the project team to achieve a levelized cost of heat of less than $0.015 per kilowatt-hour for small-scale systems.


The research team will assemble and test a low-cost, non-tracking solar-thermal collector prototype called an internal compound parabolic concentrator (ICPC). At the same time, they will develop thermal-storage materials than can melt solids inside a particle shell. The resulting liquid in the shell can transfer its heat to high-salinity water that passes through tubes next to the shell. That heat can be stored in the shell and released when the sun is down, enabling around-the-clock thermal energy for desalination. The collector will have a lightweight, durable, portable design that can lower operating costs and enable multiple relocations over its 25-year lifetime. This project will culminate in a 50-kilowatt thermal demonstration array.


Eliminating the need for tracking will reduce the cost of generating of thermal energy. Once designed and tested, the resulting ICPC could become part of a low-cost solution for industrial process heat applications, such as drying corn and pasteurizing and roasting nuts. Its portability will make it ideal for desalination or industrial process heat in remote areas.