A high-flux solar concentrating system.
This research investigates the collection of concentrating solar energy and its transmission through optical fibres for use in high temperature applications such as lunar in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU) programmes, solar power generation and solar surgery. A prototype collector, known as the Fibre Optic Concentrating Utilisation System (FOCUS), has been developed and is capable of delivering high energy fluxes to a remote target. Salient performance results include flux concentrations approaching 1000 suns with an overall optical efficiency of 13%, measured from the inlet of the collector to the fibre outlet. The system comprises a novel solar concentrator designed to inject solar energy into a four metre long fibre optic cable for the transmission of light to the target. A nonimaging reflective lens in the form of a 600 mm diameter ring array concentrator was chosen for the collection of solar energy. Advantageous characteristics over the more common parabolic dish are its rearward focusing capacity and single stage reflection. The ring array comprises a nested set of paraboloidal elements constructed using composite material techniques to demonstrate a low-cost, effective fabrication process. At concentrator focus, a fibre optic cable of numerical aperture 0.37 is positioned to transport the highly concentrated energy away from the collector. The cable is treated to withstand UV exposure and high solar energy flux, and allows flexibility for target positioning. A computational analysis of the optical system was performed using ray tracing software, from which a predictive model of concentrator performance was developed to compare with experimental results. Performance testing of FOCUS was conducted using energy balance principles in conjunction with a flat plate calorimeter. Temperatures approaching 1500°C and flux levels in the region of 1800 suns were achieved before injection to the cable, demonstrating the optical system's suitability for use in high flux applications. During testing, peak temperatures exceeding 900°C were achieved at the remote target with a measured flux of 104 W/cm2 at the cable outlet. The predicted optical efficiency was 22%, indicating that further refinements to the ray trace model are necessary, specifically with regard to losses at the inlet to the cable. FOCUS was able to demonstrate its usefulness as a test bed for lunar in-situ resource utilisation technologies by successfully melting a lunar soil simulant. The system permits further terrestrial-based ISRU research, such as oxygen production from regolith and the fabrication of structural elements from lunar soil.
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