115-foot 'tulip' harnesses sun's rays to power villages

An interesting new entry in the solar power market is blooming in a desert in Southern Spain. 50 mirrors track the sun and reflect its light into a 115-foot high tulip-shaped tower; the concentrated rays cause the air in the bulb to heat up to over 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. The super heated air is then forced into a combustion chamber where it expands, powering a turbine generator and creating electricity.

The solar tulip idea carries some eco-friendly benefits. It relies on air as the heat transfer system — eliminating the need for other mediums such as oil, salt or water. Nor is water required to cool it. Only when the sun goes down is an external fuel supply used to keep the system going.

The idea was developed in the 1980's in Israel, and now the company behind the concept — AORA — operates a plant on a Kibbutz that produces a hundred kilowatts of electricity. That's enough to power 40 homes. The test plant in Spain is producing enough to power 35 homes.

While the two plants are considered test operations for now, the company is hopeful the technology will take off. They envision the technology to be scalable and hope it will fill a need in communities that need alternative power solutions — provided they receive a lot of sun.

AORA's research is supported by private and European research funding, and are looking for additional dollars to expand beyond the trial plants.

AORA, via Reuters

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