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Mechanical power generation based on solar Thermodynamic Engines

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Converting the Sun’s energy to mechanical power

Electrical power generation often involves conversion of thermal energy from a heat source to mechanical energy that in turn drives electrical generators. A new generation of power plants is relying on thermal energy provided by the Sun and harvested via solar thermal collectors.


The ‘Mechanical power generation based on solar thermodynamic engines’ (Powersol) project was initiated to develop a low-cost and environmentally friendly shaft power generation technology for use in small or rural communities. The so-called Powersol system is a solar thermal-driven mechanical power generation system applicable to electrical power generation and seawater desalination, among others. The researchers evaluated three different solar collector prototypes: a stationary flat plate collector, a stationary compound parabolic concentrator and a single-axis Sun-tracking parabolic trough collector. These were optimised for performance at 80 ºC, 150 ºC and 200 ºC. The design and construction of an experimental power plant using the aforementioned technologies enabled further optimisation of thermodynamic cycle parameters and identification of components with unsatisfactory performance. In addition, the investigators determined that the use of the solar organic Rankine cycle (ORC) for desalination was most suitable for Mediterranean regions when considering solar field size, capital cost and energy consumption. In addition, this technology’s potential to be used in stand-alone systems was particularly attractive compared to conventional and other solar-driven methods. Thus, the Powersol project successfully evaluated the use of solar energy to generate mechanical power in the Mediterranean region, with application to electricity production and desalination. The results should enhance the ability of Mediterranean countries to utilise the solar radiation with which nature provides them to generate power that in turn does minimal harm to the natural environment – a definite win-win situation.

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