SFERA flushes out groundbreaking CSP research

CSP Today speaks to Marie Prouteau, Project Manager of SFERA at PROMES-CNRS, about SFERA’s call for projects deadline extension, and the programme’s progress to date.

Interview by Rikki Stancich

Every year, for the last three years, the Solar Facilities for the European Research Area (SFERA) has opened the doors of Europe’s leading solar thermal research and test infrastructures to the brightest minds in solar thermal research.

The European Commission (EC) allocated €7.4mn back in 2010 to support the SFERA solar thermal research programme, which is based on a partnership of Europe’s leading solar thermal research installations CIEMAT-PSA (directed by Diego Martinez, the coordinator of SFERA), CNRS, PSI, ETH, WEIZMANN, ENEA and DLR.

In line with the EC’s request that approximately €3mn be reserved for research teams, to finance their access to these installations to carry out tests, SFERA has launched a call for projects (CFP) for its penultimate installation access programme.

The CFP was due to close next week, however to enable more submissions, the deadline has been extended from February 28 to March 9th.

CSP Today speaks to SFERA’s project manager Marie Prouteau about the research project’s progress and whether it has succeeded in flushing out breakthrough ideas.

CSP Today:  Under the auspices of SFERA, European solar thermal research installations CIEMAT, CNRS, PSI, WEIZMANN and ENEA are again opening their doors to advance research and development of solar thermal technologies. How successful have past campaigns been with regard to making advances in CSP R&D?

Marie Prouteau: We started the programme in 2010 to invite people to our respective installations in order to test their solar thermal-related ideas. So far the programme has been very successful. The first campaign registered 30 projects across all the installations. The second campaign was similarly very successful.

CSP Today: SFERA has launched its 3rd request for research proposals for its Access to Research Infrastructures, which is due to close next week. What level of response have you had so far?

Marie Prouteau: So far, only 9 proposals have been submitted. Last year we received most of the proposals in the final week. We hope the same will happen this year. As a precaution, we have decided to extend the deadline one week, to 9th March.

CSP Today: How does the process work exactly – there is a very short timeframe in which tests can take place. Does this preclude major research projects?

Marie Prouteau: We have funding from the European Commission to finance around 2-3 person projects for a maximum of 3-4 weeks depending on the installations. It cannot be a large-scale project, as this would require additional funding from external resources and from the facilities themselves.

It is a very short timeframe, so before the researchers arrive here, they are assigned an Installation Project Leader (IPL) whose role is to help build the experiments. He also prepares the installation in advance. .

This enables maximum work to be achieved when the teams arrive with their research prepared in collaboration with the IPL; once here, all they need to focus on is carrying out the tests and logging the results.

CSP Today: What type of research has taken place so far?

Marie Prouteau: It really depends on the facility. At CNRS, the solar furnace is oriented to elaborating nano-materials and testing ceramic components for, say, volumetric receivers. Research can also deal with specific solar instrumentation or solar photonics.

One interesting project we saw here was corrosion of ceramics by solar heating in moist atmosphere, and the reaction at high temperatures.

CIEMAT, on the other hand, is more geared toward testing solar desalination and detoxification technologies. At ENEA, projects deal with molten salt technologies; at WEIZMANN with the production of solar fuels or at PSI with high-temperature solar simulators.

A full list of projects can be found on the SFERA site, and many papers from these research projects have been published in international scientific journals.

CSP Today: Have any potentially game changing ideas come out of these installation access test programmes?

Marie Prouteau: So far we have not seen any real ‘game changers’. There have been new and interesting projects, new partnerships formed, but no major breakthroughs.

One project though, from Portugal, dealt with a solar-pumped laser. During their stay a new world record has been achieved by the laser with an output performance of 9.6W per m² of collecting solar surface, which represents an enhancement of 43% compared to the previous record. This record should be shortly published in a scientific journal.

The main advantage of the programme so far has been enhancing existing collaboration  and new partnerships between researchers.

In June 2013 when the programme ends, we will have a global picture of the partnerships created, along with the scientific results of the research projects. There will be roughly 100 summary reports.

CSP Today: Some very interesting work is underway at SFERA at present. Are you able to comment on these 'work packages' - on progress made on sunshape measurement and its contribution to flux density distribution for example?

Marie Prouteau: It is currently a theoretical calculation of the sunshape. There is no formal report yet as the experiments should be carried out in May this year. This will be an important experiment since the right measurement of the sunshape is of primary importance to improve solar receivers’ cavities and best calculate the electricity produced by solar power plants. At the moment, due to a wrong sunshape measurement, the concentrated solar power is overestimated.

CSP Today: Another interesting research area has been in establishing components standards. What progress has been made so far?

Marie Prouteau: For components standards there are 2 work packages: one focuses on establishing standardized testing procedures of the components (done at the research centres) and the other work package is focused on industry and aims at establishing CSP standards for the elaboration/qualification of the components.

Progress has been quite slow on this, but the SFERA partners are due to meet in Rome in two weeks to check on standards for testing CSP components. Regarding the work with industries, it is currently checking the other initiatives such as the leading activities of AENOR (Spain) or DIN (Germany) or ASME (USA). At the international level, the IEC, CEN and ISO are also really active. It is important to collaborate on this since standards are urgently needed in CSP.

CSP Today: Is the SFERA programme likely to be extended?

Marie Prouteau: During the EC’s final call for proposals in its FP7, the deadline for which was November 2011, the EC requested SFERA to run a second project, SFERA 2, to ensure on-going research, so we may well see an extension of the programme beyond 2013.

With another year and a half of this programme remaining, it is a little early to comment on its overall effectiveness. In the final year we will see a lot more research being conducted into materials and components. A lot remains to be done in terms of the work packages and experiments.

To respond to this article, please write to the Editor:

Rikki Stancich: rstancich@csptoday.com