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New Lab to Help Bring Solar Thermal Technologies to Market

DES PLAINES, Ill. - The Gas Technology Institute (GTI) has announced the opening of its Combined Heat and Power (CHP) & Renewable Energy Laboratory to provide greater capabilities for developing a wide variety of highly efficient renewable energy technologies such as solar thermal products.

“The advancement of renewable energy is crucial to reducing the demand for conventional fossil fuels while also reducing carbon emissions,” said Bill Liss, managing director, End Use Solutions. “A key challenge, however, is integrating renewable energy solutions - such as solar thermal - in a cost-effective way for homes, commercial businesses, and manufacturing facilities. We’re addressing these challenges, with a goal of bringing practical, clean, high-efficiency hybrid solar thermal energy technologies to the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors.”

The facility, located at GTI’s 18-acre site in Des Plaines, Ill., contains multiple types of low- to medium-temperature solar thermal technologies and associated end use equipment such as tank and tankless natural gas water heaters, boilers, space conditioning equipment, and other technologies that can enable investigation of integrated or hybrid energy systems using solar thermal.

GTI’s solar thermal R&D focuses on advancements of traditional lower-temperature solar thermal (less than 200°F) for hot water or space heating, and newer higher-temperature (over 200°) systems that can be used for steam generation, absorption cooling, process heating, and other uses.

“Solar thermal water heating technology has been around for more than a century,” continued Liss. “However, innovative processes are breathing new life into this technology. When coupled with the most advanced natural gas water heating systems and the latest computer controls, new solar thermal energy solutions are creating a very dynamic and reliable renewable application.” Liss added that advanced “hybrid systems” - which use solar thermal energy along with natural gas or propane - can reduce energy consumption by up to 40 percent with lower capital and installation costs.

Under sponsorship from Utilization Technology Development (UTD), a residential hybrid gas-solar hot water system that will reduce materials, manufacturing, and installation costs for these systems is being developed. GTI is working with partners and gas utilities to help bring affordable hybrid solar thermal/natural gas systems to the residential market.

Applications that use higher-temperature solar thermal energy are also being addressed. The organization is teaming with partner companies on a solar thermal technology based on an evacuated tube solar collector that can be used for a variety of heat-driven industrial/commercial applications, including boiler feedwater, absorption chilling, and industrial drying.

“We have a long history of developing innovative end use technologies and partnering with manufacturers and industry to bring them to market,” said Dan Willems, GTI’s industrial R&D director. “Our new laboratory offers the ability to more easily develop, integrate, and test solar thermal technologies to build on the momentum of this fast-growing renewable energy sector.”

For more information, visit www.gastechnology.org.

Publication date: 05/31/2010

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