One barrier for scaling up solar power is space. Large amounts of land are necessary for panels or solar collectors like parabolic troughs. Many people have explored placing solar panels on the ocean to generate renewable energy without costing humans too much land, yet there are obvious problems with this vast but precarious space. Weather could damage the floating panels, rendering time and investment useless. So engineers at TU Wien developed the Heliofloat, a creative solution to choppy waves and stormy skies.
Designed to withstand waves and tempests, the lightweight Heliofloat platforms are constructed with pliable buoyancy units similar to barrels that are open to the ocean floor. Soft material supplements the open bottom design, allowing the Heliofloat to ride out storms with greater ease than traditional platforms that need to be heavy to last.
According to TU Wien, “There is no closed air cushion, but rather an air column over the water which acts as a shock absorber… When the air tanks are correctly dimensioned, the waves rise and fall under the Heliofloat without making any significant impact on the platform, allowing the construction to float steadily just above the water.”
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Heliofloats offer tantalizingly huge potential with their ability to support installations as large as football fields. The platforms could host either photovoltaic panels or parabolic troughs.
There are several other potential functions for the technology as well; the engineers are exploring utilizing the plants to preserve bodies of water from evaporation, using the technology for desalination plants, or even constructing ocean homes using Heliofloats. A floating model was recently presented at the industrial technology trade fair Hannover Messe in Germany, which was opened by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Obama.
Heliofloat’s engineers are seeking investors to bring this game-changing tech to market.
Images via TU Wien