For the transformation of thermal energy systems, solar thermal energy is a central component alongside energy efficiency. How this role is interpreted in different national economies and climatic zones also depends on cost developments in production and distribution. Research and development can make a contribution by developing more cost-effective materials, manufacturing processes and optimized complete systems. Here, not only the investment needed but also the annual operating costs play a significant role.
In our work on solar thermal technology, we are concerned with optics and surface technology to better transmit, reflect, absorb, redirect or concentrate solar radiation, depending on the application. Components and systems technology for solar-thermal applications are developed further in all aspects: Solar-thermal flat-plate and evacuated tubular collectors find diverse applications from domestic hot water and space-heating systems to coolers and chillers. Competition with photovoltaics for installation space means that new developments in thermal collectors combined with photovoltaic power generation are important. Façade integration applying new flat heat pipes offers design flexibility. Linear concentration allows operating temperatures from 150 °C up to 550 °C to be reached. In addition to applications in large power stations for solar-thermal electricity generation, it also offers an option with simpler and less expensive variants to generate process heat, processing steam and heat to drive absorption chillers.
Energy efficiency in industrial plants also represents an important application field for solar thermal technology. For example, we are working on improving the supply of heat by steam or other heat-transfer media, on storage units for high-temperature heat, or on increasing the efficiency of production processes with the help of innovative heat transfer. Membrane-based processes, driven by solar or waste heat, can be used to purify industrial waste water or to concentrate residual materials so that they can be recycled better.
Fraunhofer ISE possesses expertise in materials science, component design, characterization and testing procedures, theoretical modelling and simulation, systems control up to systems technology for the different applications.