Solar Steam technology
The Larkfleet Solar Steam technology, developed in association with Cranfield University, concentrates the power of the sun’s rays to heat water to create steam which can be used in industrial processes or for power generation.
It works by focusing the sun’s rays through a Fresnel lens array onto a tube which contains water.
The angle of the lens array can be adjusted through a vertical axis to track the sun and is seated on a circular track which allows the array also to follow the sun’s progress horizontally across the sky. By tracking in both planes, the system maintains maximum levels of solar radiation concentrated on the tube.
Solar Steam builds on existing ideas about using solar radiation to generate heat and takes them a step further. We have been granted a UK patent for the technology and have applied for patents in the European Union and in India.
Potential for renewable power generation using a Solar Steam array is greatest in sunny regions like southern Europe and Asia.
Power generation companies can use solar steam to increase renewable heat input and reduce energy costs. Industrial facilities that use fossil fuels to provide the thermal energy required for their processes can instead install the Solar Steam collector to generate low carbon heat.
The Solar Steam system can also be used in desalination (the process of removing salt from water to make it drinkable). This is of particular value in coastal countries with water shortages.
Testing and development
We tested the technology with an experimental installation alongside our HQ in Bourne, Lincolnshire. Despite the British climate, which is not ideal for solar power, the results were sufficiently encouraging to persuade us (and partners) to make further investment and extend trials to two overseas locations.
We have now dismantled the UK installation while we concentrate on the overseas trials.
Solar Steam in Mexico
We have secured funding to deliver a pre-commercial demonstration of Solar Steam at a site in Morelos in Mexico.
Mexico has one of the fastest growing solar markets worldwide. It grew by more than 500 per cent in 2016 and has an estimated potential of between four and six gigawatts of capacity per year by 2030.
Funding for Solar Steam development is being provided through the Mexico-UK Collaborative Industrial Research and Development Programme, which is sponsored by the National Science and Technology Council in Mexico (CONACYT), Innovate UK and the Newton Fund.
We will develop the pre-commercial demonstrator in collaboration with academic and industrial partners in Mexico and with the support of Queen Mary University of London. Larkfleet will contribute £160,000 to the total project budget of £800,000.
It is thought that the project will take two years to complete.
Solar Steam in India
We have also won funding from a UK government-sponsored competition to build a mobile version of Solar Steam designed to deliver renewable heat and power in remote areas of rural India.
The funding has come from round four of the Energy Catalyst mid-stage technology development competition. The competition is funded by Innovate UK, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
We plan to build a ‘containerised’ version of the Solar Steam technology to supply renewable heat and power to off-grid rural communities in India. The two-year project will be delivered in partnership with Cranfield University and an Indian solar collector manufacturer. The total budget is about £550,000 and Larkfleet is directly contributing £128,000 to see the project to fruition.
The technology is now moving from the research phase into commercial development.
We have recently signed a contract with Richfield Engineering of Kenya under which Richfield will manufacture Solar Steam plants for Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia and India.
A particular target in these areas is the provision of reliable thermal energy for steam, hot water and cooling used in processes for the agricultural sectors. The greatest increase in demand for food, energy and water is in these ‘sun belt’ regions of the world which have the largest populations. Many food growers and processors in these regions are hampered by the lack of a reliable grid connection to run refrigeration plant and must rely on expensive on-site generation using fossil fuels.
The potential market for Solar Steam is huge. Our deal with Richfield Engineering will allow us to tap into this by using Richfield’s substantial experience of high-quality engineering manufacture and its extensive international business network.