Mexico is a promising market place for solar growth, and in order to highlight the global commercial viability of the technology following the granting of patents, Larkfleet has been seeking funding to deliver a pre-commercial demonstration of solar steam at a site in Morelos in the country.
A funding application to develop the demonstration has been made 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.
If successful, Larkfleet will develop the pre-commercial demonstrator in collaboration with academic and industrial partners in Mexico and with the support of Cranfield University and the Queen Mary University of London. Lark Energy will contribute £160,000 to the total project budget of £800,000. It is thought that the project will take three years to complete.
The potential for renewable power generation using a solar steam array is greatest in sunny regions like Mexico, which is one of the fastest growing solar markets worldwide. The solar market in Mexico grew by more than 500 per cent this year and has an estimated potential of between four and six gigawatts of capacity per year by 2030.
This potential provides an opportunity for investment in solar steam in order to increase renewable heat input and reduce energy costs. For example, industrial facilities that use fossil fuels to provide the thermal energy required for their processes can instead install the Larkfleet solar steam collector to generate low carbon heat.
The Larkfleet solar steam system works by focussing the sun's rays through a Fresnel lens array onto a tube which contains water. The water is heated to create steam which can be used in industrial process heating and cooling applications.
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 tubes.
Simone Perini, renewable energy development engineer at Lark Energy, said: "Solar steam builds on existing ideas about using solar radiation to generate heat and takes them a step further.
"We are taking this technology to a wider market where we believe it will have a positive impact on the generation of sustainable and renewable heat.
"To show this we are collaborating with academic, commercial and international funding partners to deliver a demonstration installation in Mexico. We are also seeking to demonstrate the viability of this technology in other regions."
The solar steam array can be used in desalination, the process of removing salt from water to make it potable. This is of particular value in coastal countries with water shortages like Mexico.
The two main methods of desalination are reverse osmosis – forcing water through a membrane to collect contaminants – and multistage flash.
The multistage flash method uses heat to convert salt water into fresh water. 'Flash' refers to rapidly bringing the water to a boil multiple times or in stages. As the salt water enters each stage of the conversion unit it is subjected to externally supplied steam heat and pressure. During each stage, fresh water vapour forms and is collected.
"Solar steam used in the desalination process will have a lower environmental impact because it is renewable and sustainable way of delivering the steam needed in the Flash method," said Simone Perini.