Focused solar systems include work on both point-focusing systems («solar ovens») and line-focusing systems («trough concentrators»).
As the foundation of all economic, public and private life, the energy supply plays an important socio-economic role. The rising cost of fossil fuels and climate issues show the urgency in the need for action. Noticeable bottlenecks in the supply of energy and a shift in the political focus in some countries have contributed to the fact that, the previous definition of sustainability (economic efficiency, ecological and social acceptability) must have added to it the issue of securing the supply of energy.
There are three concrete objectives that must be reached to ensure future sustainability and sufficient energy resources:
- reduce the demand for energy on the consumer side
- increase the efficiency with which final energy resources is made available
- develop renewable energies.
All three areas are open to huge potential. DLR is conducting research into highly efficient and low-carbon power generation based on gas turbines and fuel cells, solar thermal power generation, as well as the efficient use of heat including combined heat and power generation based on fossil and renewable sources of energy. Besides their scientific interest, system-analytical studies in the evaluation of complex energy and drive technologies as well as energy efficient scenarios are important in advising politicians.
DLR’s contribution to energy research cannot possibly cover every technical option. The strategy has therefore been selective and cooperative. The problem areas that DLR is tackling are orientated towards medium and long-term strategies and are being worked on with its German and European partners according to a mutually agreed division of work.
The goals of energy research at DLR are to further develop solar-thermal power-plant technologies through to the market introduction phase, make low- and high-temperature fuel cells usable, particularly for generating electricity, and to research and develop high-efficiency gas and steam turbine power plants.
In the area of power-plant research, all components of traditional gas turbine technology are being investigated by multidisciplinary teams. In addition to studying combustion and working in the area of turbine flow, the emphasis is on integrating digital tools that in the future will make it much easier and faster to design combustion chambers and turbine components; developing these requires a thorough understanding of all procedures involved. To a large extent, DLR’s work on gas turbines takes advantage of synergies with similar work on aircraft engines. The optimisation of heat exchangers is also of great interest.
Work on low-temperature fuel cells concentrates on the development of improved membranes, economically viable production processes, the integration of novel sensor technology into the fuel cell stack to achieve fully automated operation and overall system engineering. Work on high-temperature fuel cells focuses on the use of plasma injection technologies to produce the cells. Thanks to the extremely thin layers now in use, this process is highly efficient and uses very little material, offering good potential for lower manufacturing costs.
Focused solar systems include work on both point-focusing systems ("solar ovens") and line-focusing systems ("trough concentrators"). The two most important development areas are work on the direct production of steam in parabolic troughs and using solar energy to operate a gas turbine. Additional topics include storage of energy in the form of heat or in chemical form as alternative fuels produced using sunlight. With a team at the Plataforma Solar de Almería, in Almería, Spain, DLR has strategically important access to an ideal test site for solar-thermal power research where numerous large-scale studies are being conducted by international teams.
All three avenues of power development enjoy points of technological intersection at which at least two could cooperate in one integrated unit in a future system. This has created a coherent, integrated topic area.