Title:
SOLAR ENERGY APPARATUS
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Described herein are solar energy apparatus that overcome many of the disadvantages and shortcomings of conventional solar energy absorption structures. The solar energy apparatus may comprise inexpensive material and have smaller dimensions to reduce the overall cost of the apparatus. The apparatus may also have coatings which help to maximize the amount of solar energy absorbed and minimize the deterioration of the apparatus due to overheating. The apparatus may include a system for monitoring and controlling the temperature of the apparatus to prevent overheating.



Inventors:
Kmetovicz, Ronald (Verdi, NV, US)
Sanders, Steven (Huntsville, UT, US)
Application Number:
12/029968
Publication Date:
09/11/2008
Filing Date:
02/12/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
126/709
International Classes:
F24J2/46; F24J2/51
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
PEREIRO, JORGE ANDRES
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
HOLLAND & HART, LLP (P.O BOX 8749, DENVER, CO, 80201, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A solar energy absorber, comprising: a front panel having a length, a width, a thickness, a first side edge and a second side edge opposite the first side edge; a rear panel having a length, a width, a thickness, a first side edge and a second side edge opposite the first side edge, wherein the rear panel is spaced apart a predetermined distance from and aligned parallel with the front panel; a first edge member coupling the front panel first side edge to the rear panel first side edge and extending the length of the front panel and rear panel; a second edge member coupling the front panel second side edge to the rear panel second side edge and extending the length of the front panel and rear panel; and at least one internal member located between the front panel and the rear panel, wherein there is at least one internal member has a height equal to the predetermined distance between the front panel and rear panel, is aligned perpendicular to the front panel and rear panel and parallel with the first edge member and second edge member and extends the length of front panel and rear panel to thereby form at least two fluid chambers within the solar energy absorber.

2. A cylindrical solar energy absorber, comprising: a cylindrical inner conduit defining a fluid passageway having an inner diameter and an outer diameter; a cylindrical outer conduit coaxial with the inner conduit having an inner diameter and an outer diameter; and a spacer for maintaining a space between the inner conduit and the outer conduit, wherein the material of the inner conduit and outer conduit comprises transparent material and the space between the inner conduit and the outer conduit comprises a vacuum.

3. A header for providing fluid communication between a series of solar energy absorbers, comprising: a fluid reservoir portion having an elongated tubular shape, an inside diameter and an outside diameter; and an absorber attachment portion having an elongated, geometrical shape; wherein the absorber attachment portion is aligned parallel to the fluid reservoir and is attached to the fluid reservoir; wherein a side of the absorber attachment portion extending away from the fluid reservoir includes an elongated slot extending partially into the absorber attachment portion for receiving the end of at least one absorber; and wherein a fluid inlet slot extends from the inside diameter of the fluid reservoir portion to the elongated slot extending partially into the absorber attachment portion.

4. A solar energy panel, comprising: an absorber housing having a first open end and a second open end opposite the first open end, wherein the housing comprises: a top panel having a first surface and a second surface opposite the first surface; a bottom panel opposite the top panel, the bottom panel having a first surface and a second surface opposite the first surface; a left side panel; a right side panel opposite the left side panel; left side corner brackets, wherein the left side corner brackets couple the top panel to the left side panel and the bottom panel to the left side panel at a right angle such that the first surface of the top panel faces the second surface of the bottom surface; right side corner brackets, wherein the right side corner brackets couple the top panel to the right side panel and the bottom panel to the right side panel at a right angle such that the first surface of the top panel faces the second surface of the bottom surface; and at least one track formed on each of the first surface of the top panel and the second surface of the bottom panel, wherein the tracks are aligned parallel with the left and right panels and extend the length of the top and bottom panels; and an absorber assembly, wherein the absorber assembly comprises: an absorber having a first surface, a second surface opposite the first surface, a first end and a second end opposing the first end; a first header coupled to the first end of the absorber; a second header coupled to the second end; and at least one absorber flex beam coupled to each of the first surface and second surface of the absorber and extending away from the absorber and perpendicular to the absorber, wherein when the absorber is housed in the housing, the absorber flex beams are aligned with the tracks and are matingly received by the tracks to thereby position the absorber in the housing.

5. A combined absorber and absorber housing assembly, comprising: a base having a top surface, a bottom surface opposite the top surface, an upper side surface, a lower side surface opposite the upper side surface; a left side surface and a right side surface opposite the left side surface; an upper wall coextensive with the upper side surface of the base and extending above the top surface of the base; a lower wall coextensive with the lower side surface of the base and extending above the top surface of the base; a left fluid chamber wall located on the top surface of the base, wherein the left fluid chamber wall is aligned with and extends the length of the left side surface and has a height smaller than the height the upper wall and lower wall extend above the top surface of the base; a right fluid chamber wall located on the top surface of the base, wherein the right fluid chamber wall is aligned with and extends the length of the right side surface and has a height smaller than the height the upper wall and lower wall extend above the top surface of the base; a left wall approximately equal in length and width to the left fluid chamber wall and located on top of the left fluid chamber wall, wherein the height of the left wall and left fluid chamber wall combined is approximately equal to the height the upper wall and lower wall each extend above the top surface of the base; a right wall approximately equal in length and width to the right fluid chamber wall and located on top of the right fluid chamber wall, wherein the height of the right wall and the right fluid chamber wall is approximately equal to the height the upper wall and lower wall each extend above the top surface of the base; at least one fluid chamber rib located on the top surface of the base between the right fluid chamber wall and the left fluid chamber wall and aligned in parallel with the left fluid chamber wall and the right fluid chamber wall, wherein the height of the at least one fluid chamber rib is approximately equal to the height of the right fluid chamber wall and the left fluid chamber wall; an inner optical layer formed on the at least one fluid chamber rib, the right fluid chamber wall and the left fluid chamber wall and extending to the upper wall and the lower wall to thereby encapsulate the area under the inner optical layer and form fluid chambers; at least one insulation chamber rib formed on the inner optical layer, wherein the combined height of the at least one fluid chamber rib, the inner optical layer and at the least one insulation chamber rib is approximately equal to the height the upper wall and lower wall each extend above the top surface of the base; and an outer optical layer formed on the at least one insulation chamber rib, the upper wall, the lower wall, the left wall and the right wall to thereby encapsulate the area under the outer optical layer and form insulation chambers.

Description:

This application claims the benefit of priority to U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/901,063, filed Feb. 12, 2007, the entirety of which is incorporated by reference.

BACKGROUND

Solar energy absorption structures or panels for absorbing solar energy are known in the art. Such conventional solar energy absorption structures typically include a body or frame and an energy absorption fluid flowing through the body. Many of these conventional solar energy absorption structures have various shortcomings.

For example, conventional solar energy absorption structures are typically made of materials—such as optical glass, aluminum, or copper—which can result in structures that are often difficult to install, heavy and costly to manufacture.

Further, many of the components of conventional solar panels have solid black absorbing surfaces that can often overheat, thereby resulting in extreme stress on the solar panels. More specifically, when exposed to the sun, a conventional solar panel can heat up to between 300° F. and 400° F. if energy absorption fluid has been drained from the panel, or if energy absorption fluid is not being continuously pumped through the panel, e.g., during fluid stagnation periods. In order to prevent damage to or extreme stress on the panels, conventional solar panels must be made of materials that are able to resist such high temperatures. Such materials are typically expensive.

Another known shortcoming of conventional solar energy absorption structures is that energy absorption fluid has a propensity to overheat when exposed to sunlight during fluid stagnation periods. Also, in some climates, such as Northern climates, antifreeze is added to the energy absorption fluid to prevent damage. However, during fluid stagnation periods, the antifreeze can be heated to levels that can ruin or degrade the antifreeze. In the event the antifreeze becomes degraded, the fluid can become acidic and dissolve the components of the absorber and other parts of the system and piping, thereby requiring maintenance. Moreover, damage to a fluid can be difficult to detect unless checked by a professional. Accordingly, if the fluid is not checked regularly, just one instance of the fluid overheating can permanently damage the system.

Another known shortcoming of conventional solar energy absorption structures is that many such structures cannot produce uniform heat transfer at low cost.

SUMMARY

Described herein are various embodiments of solar energy apparatus that overcome many of the disadvantages and shortcomings of conventional solar energy absorption structures.

In certain embodiments of the invention described herein, solar energy absorbers that may comprise transparent plastic material are disclosed. The dimensions of the solar energy absorbers may be minimized so as to reduce the amount of energy absorption fluid, such as black fluid, flowing through the solar energy absorber. Reflective coatings, selective coatings for improved absorption and reflectors may also be included in the solar energy absorbers.

In other embodiments of the invention described herein, headers for solar energy absorbers that may comprise transparent plastic materials and reflective coatings are disclosed.

In other embodiments of the invention described herein, housings for absorbers that may comprise foam or transparent plastic materials are disclosed. The housings may also include reflective coatings. The housings may also include elements for holding an absorber in position.

In still other embodiments of the invention described herein, combined absorber and absorber housings are disclosed. The combined absorber and absorber housings may comprise transparent plastic material or foam.

In yet another embodiment of the invention described herein, a solar absorptive fluid circulation system is disclosed. The solar absorptive fluid circulation system may include a monitoring system for monitoring the temperature of the system and valves that may be opened to drain the system of black fluid should the system exceed a predetermined temperature.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Embodiments of the present disclosure are shown in the accompanying drawings.

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an absorber of a solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of an absorber of a solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 3 is a bottom end view of an absorber of a solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 3A is a bottom end view of an absorber according to one embodiment.

FIG. 3B is a bottom end view of an absorber according to another embodiment.

FIG. 3C is a bottom end view of an absorber according to yet another embodiment.

FIG. 4 is an end view of a center conductor of a solar energy apparatus according to one embodiment.

FIG. 5 is an end view of the center conductor illustrated in FIG. 4 but shown with energy absorption fluid flowing there through.

FIG. 6 is a side view blowup of a section of an absorber portion of the of a coaxial solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 7 is an end view blowup of a section of an absorber portion of the of a coaxial solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 8 is an end view blowup of possible center conductor configurations in an absorber portion of a coaxial solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 9 is an end view of possible reflector shapes in an absorber portion of a coaxial solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 10 is the side view of an absorber portion of a coaxial solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 11 is a blowup of the side view of the absorber portion of the coaxial solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 12 is a three dimensional view of a coaxial solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 13 is a side view of a coaxial solar energy apparatus with headers attached.

FIG. 14 is a partial side view of a absorber of a solar energy apparatus shown with a header.

FIG. 16 is a cross-sectional end view of a solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 17 is a detailed view of the area inside the circle labeled Detail 17-17 in FIG. 16.

FIG. 18 is an exploded perspective view of a solar energy apparatus according to one embodiment.

FIG. 19 is an end view of the solar energy apparatus of FIG. 18 shown with an end cap removed.

FIG. 20 is a partial end view of the solar energy apparatus of FIG. 18 shown with the end cap and a header removed.

FIG. 21 is a 3D view of an absorber assembly.

FIG. 21A is an end view of an absorber portion of a solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 22 is an end view of the shell portion of a solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 23 is an end view blow up of a solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 24 is an end view of a solar energy apparatus with end caps removed.

FIG. 25 is a 3D view of the track and flexible beam.

FIG. 26 is a top view of a solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 27 is a side view of a solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 28 is a three dimensional view of a solar energy apparatus.

FIG. 29 is a perspective view of a solar energy apparatus having a top to bottom fluid flow according to one embodiment.

FIG. 30 is a top view of the solar energy apparatus of FIG. 29.

FIG. 31 is an end view of the solar energy apparatus of FIG. 29 shown with an end wall removed.

FIG. 32 is a cross-sectional side view (without headers) of the solar energy apparatus as shown in FIG. 33 taken along the line 32-32 in FIG. 33.

FIG. 33 is a perspective view of the solar energy apparatus of FIG. 29 shown with energy absorption fluid in the absorber.

FIG. 34 is an end view of an embodiment of a solar energy apparatus having a plurality of vacuum chambers.

FIG. 35 is an exploded perspective view and an assembled perspective view of a modular solar energy apparatus according to one embodiment.

FIG. 36 is an exploded side view and an assembled side view of the modular solar energy apparatus of FIG. 34.

FIG. 37 is an exploded end view and an assembled end view of the modular solar energy apparatus of FIG. 34.

FIG. 38 is a top plan view of the modular solar energy apparatus of FIG. 34.

FIG. 39 is a perspective view of a plurality of modular solar energy apparatus coupled together.

FIG. 40 is a perspective view of a solar energy apparatus according to one embodiment.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Described herein are embodiments of solar energy apparatus for collecting and distributing solar energy. The solar energy apparatus include a solar collector system through which a solar absorptive heat transfer fluid, such as black fluid, is allowed to flow. The solar energy collector system may include a solar energy collection portion and a solar energy transfer portion. As the solar absorption fluid flows through the solar energy collection portion, it contacts sun light and collects solar energy. The solar absorption fluid then flows through the solar energy transfer portion where the solar energy collected in the solar absorption fluid is utilized immediately or is transferred to a thermal energy storage system, such as a water heating or building heating system, via a thermal exchange element or a heat collection storage container. Continuing from the thermal energy transfer portion, the absorptive fluid returns to and again flows through the solar energy collection portion to restart the solar energy collection and distribution process in a closed loop. Accordingly, the solar energy apparatus provides continuous collection and distribution of solar energy.

With reference to FIG. 1, an absorber 20 for collecting solar energy is illustrated. The absorber 20 includes a generally rectangular shaped front panel 22 spaced apart from and extending parallel to a corresponding generally rectangular shaped rear panel 24. The front panel 22 and rear panel 24 are coupled to each other along their respective sides 26, 28 by edge members 30. In a specific embodiment of the absorber, a light reflective layer 44 may be formed under the rear panel 24. The absorber 20 has an overall length A.

The absorber 20 also includes a bottom header 60 at the bottom end 38 of the absorber 20 having an open end 70 and a closed end 72 and a top header 62 at the top end 42 of the absorber 20 having an open end 70 and a closed end 72. Closed ends 72 may be open if there are a plurality of absorbers 20 placed in series or in parallel so that fluid may flow between absorbers. Also, the closed end 72 of the top header 62 and the closed end 72 of the bottom header 60 do not need to be on the same side of the absorber. The closed ends 72 may be on opposite sides of the absorber so that flow goes in one side of the bottom header 60 and out the opposite side of the top header 62, which creates more uniform fluid flow.

The bottom header 60 and top header 62 are in fluid communication with the space between the front panel 22 and rear panel 24. The bottom header 60 may include a fluid valve 113 and the top header may include an air valve 115.

In operation, energy absorptive fluid, such as black fluid, is flowed into the open end 70 of the bottom header 60. The bottom header 60 fills with energy absorptive fluid and eventually begins to fill the space between the front panel 22 and the rear panel 24. Once the fluid has reached the top end 42 of the absorber 20, the fluid flows into the top header 62 and out the opening 70.

As shown in FIG. 2, solar absorptive heat transfer fluid 160 fills the absorber 20 when solar absorptive heat transfer fluid 160 flows into bottom header 60 and up the absorber 20 to the top header 62

With reference to FIG. 3, the structure of the absorber 20 is illustrated in greater detail. The front panels 22 and rear panel 24 are coupled to each other along their respective sides 26, 28 by edge members 30 and along respective inward surfaces by a plurality of internal members 32. Although not necessary, as shown in the illustrated embodiments, the edge members 30 and internal members 32 extend generally parallel to each other and the respective sides 26, 28 of the front panel and rear panel 24. The edge members 30 are coupled, e.g., adhered, to the sides 26, 28 of the front panel 22 and rear panel 24, and serve to seal the sides together. The internal members 32 are coupled to the inward surfaces of the front panel 22 and rear panel 24 to at least partially form a seal between respective internal members and the inward surfaces of the front panel 22 and rear panel 24 and to keep the front panels 22 and rear panel 24 from moving apart or together, such as when fluid between the panels is under pressure or suction relative to outside air. In certain implementations, the internal members 32 are coupled to the inward surfaces of the panels 22, 24 through use of any of various bonding techniques, such as, but not limited to, use of an adhesive.

The absorber 20 includes a plurality of fluid chambers 34 in which a heat exchange medium, such as solar absorptive heat transfer fluid, is contained, absorbs sunlight, and is circulated. The fluid chambers 34 include the areas defined between the inward surfaces of the front and rear panels 22, 24 and either adjacent internal members 32 or an internal member 32 and an inward surface of an edge member 30. The fluid chambers 34 each have an inlet opening 36 proximate the bottom end 38 shown in FIG. 1. The fluid chambers 34 also have an outlet opening (not shown) proximate the top end 42 of the absorber 20 shown in FIG. 1. The fluid chambers 34 extend generally parallel to the sides 26, 28 of the panels 22, 24 and generally perpendicular to the bottom and top ends 38, 42 shown in FIG. 1.

The absorber 20 has an overall width B and overall depth C. The front panel 22 and rear panel 24 are spaced apart from each other a distance E, i.e., the fluid chambers 34 have a depth or height E. The edge members 30 can have the same general length A (see FIG. 1) and depth C, respectively, of the absorber 20 and a width F. A first of the internal members 32 can be spaced a distance G away from an outer side of an edge member 30 and a second of the internal members 32, i.e., the next adjacent internal member, can be spaced a distance H, or “2 times G”, away from the outer side of the same edge member 30. In other words, each internal member 30 can be spaced a distance “n times H” away from an outer side of an edge member, where n is the number of internal members between the internal member in question (including itself) and the edge member 30. In other embodiments, the internal members 30 can be spaced at any of various distances away from the outer side of the edge members 30 and relative to each other to form fluid chambers 34 having any of various widths S. In other words, each chamber can have a width S equal to the difference between the distance G and the width F of the edge members.

The front panel 22 and rear panel 24 are each made from a clear material, such as optically transparent plastic, which permits energy emitted from the sun to pass through and heat the heat exchange medium. The plastic may have any or all of the characteristics of plastic as set forth in Table 1 below.

The rear panel 24 includes a light reflective layer 44 positioned adjacent an outer surface of the rear panel. For example, in some implementations, the light reflective layer 44 is a metallic layer, such as a thin piece of sheet metal, or foil, coupled to, such as by being adhered to, or otherwise bonded to, the outer surface of the rear panel 24. In some implementations, the reflective surface is spaced apart from the outer surface of the rear panel 24 such that an insulating layer of air can be positioned between the reflective surface and the rear panel.

In one specific exemplary implementation, the overall length A is approximately 96 inches, the overall width B is approximately 48 inches and the overall depth C is approximately 0.13 inches. The thickness D of the front panels 22 and rear panel 24 is approximately 0.02 inches and the panels are spaced apart a distance E of approximately 0.09 inches. The distance G is approximately 0.5 inches and the distance H is approximately 1.0 inches. In this and other implementations, the weight of the absorber plus absorptive fluid is less than 30 pounds.

In some implementations, the components of the absorber can be made using plastic extrusion processes. For example, one or more of the front and rear panels can be a polycarbonate panel, such as manufactured by Gallina USA, of Janesville, Wis.

FIG. 3A depicts an alternative exemplary implementation of an absorber 20A similar to absorber 20, but with a different overall depth C and chamber width S. The absorber 20A has an overall depth C of approximately 0.25 inches and a width S of the chambers of approximately 0.25 inches. The absorber 20A can hold approximately 5 gallons of absorptive fluid.

Referring to FIG. 3B, in another specific exemplary implementation of an absorber 20B that is similar to absorber 20 and formed using a plastic extrusion process, the overall length A is approximately 96 inches, the overall width B is approximately 48 inches and the overall depth C is approximately 0.16 inches. The thickness D of the front panel 22 and rear panel 24 is approximately 0.01 inches and the panels are spaced apart a distance E of approximately 0.14 inches. The width S of each chamber is approximately 0.16 inches. The absorber of this specific implementation can hold approximately 3 gallons of absorptive fluid, e.g., black fluid, and weigh less than approximately 35 pounds excluding the black fluid.

In FIG. 3C, yet another exemplary implementation of an absorber 20C that is similar to absorber 20 and formed using a plastic extrusion process is illustrated. The overall length A is approximately 96 inches, the overall width B is approximately 48 inches and the overall depth C is approximately 0.06 inches. The thickness D of each of the panels 22, 24 is approximately 0.01 inches and the panels are spaced apart a distance E of approximately 0.04 inches. The width S is approximately 0.25 inches. The absorber 20C can hold approximately 1 gallon of solar absorptive heat transfer fluid and weigh less than approximately 18 pounds without fluid.

In addition to fluid chambers formed between two plates to form a solar energy absorber as described above, the solar energy absorber may have other configurations. Referring to FIGS. 4 and 5, and according to another embodiment, a solar energy collector 300 includes a center conductor collection portion 310. The center conductor 310 includes a generally cylindrical inner conduit 320 and a generally cylindrical outer conduit 330 coaxial with and surrounding the inner conduit. An inner surface of the inner conduit 320 defines an axially extending fluid passageway 322 having a generally circular cross-section and the inner surface of the outer conduit 330 defines an axially extending passageway 332 having a generally circular cross-section with a radius greater than that of the fluid passageway 322. The outer conduit 330 can have a maximum diameter L that in some implementations is approximately 1.0 inches.

The outer conduit 330 is coupled to the inner conduit 320 by posts 324 circumferentially spaced about and secured to an external surface of the inner conduit and an internal surface of the outer conduit. In some implementations, the posts 324 are elongate and extend a length of the center conductor 310. In other implementations, the posts 324 are discrete spacers, such as columns or blocks, positioned at incremental locations along the length of the center conductor 310. Although three posts 324 are shown in the illustrated embodiments, in other embodiments, more or less than three posts are used.

In an alternative implementation, the posts 324 can be disks having a central hole with a diameter that is approximately equal to the outer diameter of the inner conduit and an outer diameter that is approximately equal to the inner diameter of the outer conduit such that the disks rest between the inner and outer conduits and maintain the inner and outer conduits in coaxial alignment.

In one embodiment, the ratio of the length of each post 324 divided by the cross-sectional area of each post 324 is maximized in order to minimize heat lost through conduction as heat moves axially up the posts.

The center conductor collection portion 310 includes a region 350 defined between the inner and outer conduits 320, 330 within which a vacuum is created to reduce convective heat losses. In some implementations, an infrared reflective coating may be applied to the interior surface of the outer conduit 330 to increase infrared reflection back into the fluid passageway 322 when visible and UV light is converted into heat inside fluid passageway 322. With specific reference to FIG. 4, with no fluid present in the fluid passageway 322, the conductor 310 does not absorb solar energy as sunlight is allowed to pass through the conductor and scatter.

In some embodiments, a portion of the lower half of any of the surfaces may be coated with a light-reflecting surface so that light reflects back to sky rather than passing through center conductor 310 when heat absorptive fluid is absent. In certain implementations, one or more of the components of the center conductor 310 can be made of plastic, glass, plastic coated glass, or any combination thereof.

Referring to FIG. 5, in operation, solar absorptive heat transfer fluid 360 is introduced in and allowed to flow within the fluid passageway 322 by operation of a pump (not shown). With solar absorptive heat transfer fluid 360 present and circulating through the center conductor 310, solar energy is collected by the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid 360 as thermal energy and transferred to a thermal storage mass (similar to thermal storage mass 152 in FIG. 40 described in greater detail below) external to the center conductor 310.

In some embodiments, the collector 300 may be drained of fluid to reduce the overall temperature of the collection portion 310 in the event the overall temperature exceeds a predetermined threshold. For example, in one specific implementation, the system drawing heat from the collector 300 is a steam system and the thermal mass is a block of inexpensive metal. The solar absorptive heat transfer fluid can be a high temperature oil compound with Ttmmax set to 600° F. to provide sufficient heat for generating steam and Tcmax set to just above 600° F. When the overall temperature Tc of the collection portion 310 reaches Tcmax, the pump turns off and the fluid is allowed to drain from the center conductor 310. With no fluid being located within the conductor 310, the collector is placed in the non-operative state and solar energy penetrating the conductor will pass through unabsorbed.

Because the overall temperature of the collector 300 can be controlled, expensive high-temperature glass or plastics need not be used, and less expensive glass and plastic substitutes can be used.

The inner conduit, outer conduit and posts may each be made of optically transparent plastic material. The plastic material may be, for example, polycarbonate plastic. The plastic may have any or all of the characteristics set forth in Table 1 below.

According to another embodiment, FIGS. 6 and 7 illustrate a side view and a cross-sectional view of an absorber assembly 801. The absorber assembly 801 generally comprises an insulating tube 810, at least one spacer 820, a center conduit 830 and a reflector 840. The insulating tube 810 and center conduit have a generally coaxial arrangement, wherein the spacer 820 centers the center conduit 830 within the insulating tube 810 and maintains a space between the center conduit 830 and the insulating tube 810. The spacer 820 also matingly receives reflector elements 840 between each spacer 820. The reflector 840 is generally positioned in the insulating tube 810 below the center conduit 830.

When in operation, solar absorptive heat transfer fluid flows through the center conduit 830 as described in greater detail below. Depending on the level of desired insulation within the assembly, the sealed space between center conductor 830 and insulating tube 810 may contain air, a noble or inert gas such as argon, or a vacuum.

The insulating tube 810 and the center conductor 830 run the full length of the absorber 801. In one embodiment, the diameter of the insulating tube 810, I_d, equals twice the diameter, C_d, of the center conductor 830. Incident solar energy enters the center conductor 830 directly or reflects off reflector 840 to enter the center conductor 830. The placement of the reflector 840 directly below the center conductor 830 and with walls extending from the base of the insulating tube 810 to its median point at a 45 degree angle make possible the collection of nearly all incident rays, both direct and diffuse, from sunrise to sunset with solar absorptive heat transfer fluid present in the center conductor 830. Absorptive materials cover only half the surface of the collector, yet the collector collects nearly all the incident solar energy. When no solar absorptive heat transfer fluid is present, the collector assembly reflects all incident solar energy. Reflector 840, which reflects all incident solar energy, returns incident radiation back to sky.

Referring to FIG. 7, outer coating 811 may be applied to the insulating tube 810 to block UV radiation or provide anti-reflective properties. The material forming the insulating tube 810 must allow the transmission of solar energy to either the center conduit 830 or the reflector 840 or both with little on no attenuation. Insulating tube 810 may be extruded from glass, plastic, or other suitable solar transmissive material. The plastic material may have any or all of the characteristics described in Table 1 below. Inner coating 813 coats the interior to reflect infrared radiation back to the center conduit 830 or to stop air from entering the structure when a vacuum is present on the interior of the absorber. Inner coating 813 prevents the escape of noble or inert gas such as argon, if present, to the outside air.

Outer coating 831 may be applied to the center conduit 830 to decrease permeability to air or noble or inert gas, and to reduce the reflection of incident energy. The material forming the center conduit 830 must allow the transmission of solar energy to either the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid, when present, or to or from the reflector 840 with little on no attenuation. Center conduit 830 may be extruded from glass, plastic, or other suitable solar transmissive material. The plastic material may have any or all of the characteristics described in Table 1 below. Inner coating 833 must stop solar absorptive heat transfer fluid from entering the material of center conduit 830. Without a coating, the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid flowing through the center conduit 830 may, over time, enter the material of the center conduit 830 and begin the discoloration process. As the center conduit 830 discolors, it absorbs incident solar energy even with no solar absorptive heat transfer fluid present. This effect causes the temperature of the center conduit 830 to rise with no solar absorptive heat transfer fluid present. With sufficient discoloration, the temperature of the center conduit 830 may rise to a point where the material fails. Coating 833 prevents or minimizes staining, and thereby prevents or minimizes material failure.

Materials of similar or differing temperature coefficients of expansion may be utilized to form the insulating tube 810 and center conduit 830 depending on the application.

The reflector 840 resides at the base of the assembly. It may be formed of a single piece of material either by cutting and bending, or it may be extruded. Surface 841 must be mirror-like to reflect all incident solar energy. Coating may be applied to surface 843 to block infrared radiation from escaping. Polished aluminum, plated plastic, or other suitable material may be used to form the reflector.

The spacer 820 serves to position the center conductor 830 within the insulating tube 810. It also matingly receives the reflector 840 in slots 823. The spacer material may be plastic, or other suitable substance with high thermal resistance to minimize the conduction of heat from the center conductor 830 to the insulating tube 810 to ambient. The plastic material may have any or all of the characteristics described in Table 1 below. A coating 821 may be applied to the spacer 820 to reflect incident solar energy to either the reflector 840 or the center conduit 830. Coating 821 may stop incident reflections to increase transmissivity through spacer 820.

As shown in FIG. 8, center conduit 830 may take on differing dimensions and shapes. Center conductor 830.1 maintains the circular shape and diameter C_d but blocks solar absorptive heat transfer fluid from entering the center of the cylinder. Fluid chambers 834.1 exist only at the perimeter of the structure. Center conductor 830.1 delivers the same solar absorptive properties of an open cylinder, but requires much less solar absorptive heat transfer fluid in the absorber. Likewise center conductors 830.2, 830.3, and 830.4 function similarly optically, but do so with much less solar absorptive heat transfer fluid than that held by an equivalent cylinder. As the shape of the center conductor changes, so must the profile of the spacer 820. FIG. 8 illustrates both the shape of the center conductor and its respective spacer.

As shown in FIG. 9, reflector 840 may take on differing dimensions and shapes 840.1, 840.2 and 840.3. A differing shape may be utilized to optimize performance for a particular application.

Referring now to FIGS. 10 and 11, the individual absorber assembly may also comprise end seals 827 and couplers 825. End seals 827 seal the ends of the absorber 801 by creating a seal between the end of the insulating tube 810 and the center conduit 830. The seal 827 can be attached with a suitable adhesive or other known connecting method. The seal 827 itself may contain gaskets, joints, welds, adhesives, bellows or other known flexible attachment methods to accept differing thermal expansion characteristics between the center conductor 830 and the insulating tube 810.

Coupler 825 attaches each absorber end to its respective header 860 or 861 shown in FIGS. 12 and 13. The coupler 825 can be attached with a suitable adhesive, mechanically, or using another known connecting method. Seals between the coupler 825 and header may contain gaskets, joints, bellows, clamps or other known flexible attachment methods to accept thermal expansion and contraction of the absorber assembly 801.

Still referring to FIGS. 10 and 11, each reflector 840 segment is approximately L_s in length. One end of the reflector 840 plugs into a spacer 820 and the remaining end plugs into a spacer 820 or an end seal 827. The combination of spacer thickness and reflector length establishes dimension L_s. L_s is also the distance at which spacers 820 are spaced apart to accept differing rates of thermal expansion and contraction. With a vacuum present, the spacers 820 may be effectively locked into place to distribute stress along the length of the absorber instead of just concentrating stress just at the end seals 827. Additionally, if a vacuum is present, a getter resides in the vacuum space.

Referring to FIGS. 12 and 13, a collector assembly 800 includes N (the number of individual assemblies) absorber assemblies 801 connected to header assemblies 860 and 861. The width of the absorber portion, W_abs, equals the diameter of an individual absorber assembly, I_d, multiplied by the number of absorber assemblies 801, N, found in the collector, or in equation form: W_abs=N×I_d, when the absorber tubes touch each other. To minimize cost per BTU of solar energy collected, the absorber tubes may be spaced apart. Under this condition the W_abs becomes the sum of the number of absorbers utilized plus the sum of the spaces between each absorber. W_abs is slightly less than the overall width B. The length of the collector assembly 800 is slightly longer than the length of the absorber assembly L_abs. Headers 860 and 861, which may be identical, may determine the maximum height H_abs. of the structure if their diameter exceeds I_d shown in FIG. 8. If the diameter of headers 860 and 861 is less than I_d, then I_d sets the maximum height of the structure. Absorber assemblies 801 connect to the headers 860 and 861 with their centers spaced I_d apart, or more. As such they may, or may not, contact each other.

In operation, filling the center conduits of the absorber assemblies 801 with solar absorptive heat transfer fluid makes the collector solar absorptive. The solar absorptive heat transfer fluid enters through bottom header 861, fills the absorber center conduits of the absorber assembly 801, then exits through top header 860. As noted previously, the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid flow direction may be reversed.

In one specific exemplary implementation, the length A is approximately 96 inches; the width B is approximately 48 inches; the absorber thickness is approximately 0.02 inches; C_d is 0.5 inches: I_d is 1.0 inch; N is 48, and L_s is 12 inches. The collector assembly may weigh less than approximately 25 pounds, hold less than 5 gallons of fluid, operate with vacuum insulation, and be manufactured inexpensively.

In another specific exemplary implementation, the length A is approximately 20 feet; the width B is approximately 10 feet; the absorber thickness is approximately 0.02 inches, C_d is 3 inches; I_d is 6 inches; N is 20; and L_s is 12 inches. The center conduit makes use of the configuration defined by 830.1. This collector assembly, which collects solar energy over an approximate 200 square foot area, assembles in a modular fashion. The entire assembly may weigh less than 200 pounds, holds less than 20 gallons of fluid, operates with air as the insulator, and may be manufactured and installed inexpensively.

Referring now to FIG. 14, headers 60 and 62 are described in greater detail. The bottom header 60 (being representative of the top header 62) includes a fluid reservoir portion 64 and an elongate absorber attachment portion 66 extending substantially the length of and forming a one-piece construction with the fluid reservoir portion. The bottom header 60 has a length that is at least the width of the absorber to which it is attached. In some embodiments, the header 60 can be formed of extruded plastic. The plastic may be optically transparent plastic. The plastic may be, for example, polycarbonate plastic. The plastic material may have any or all of the characteristics described in Table 1 below.

The fluid reservoir portion 64 defines a generally circular fluid passageway 68 extending from an open end 70 to a closed end 72 (as shown in FIG. 1) of the bottom header 60. The fluid passageway 68 defined by the interior surface of the tubular shaped portion can have a radius I and the fluid reservoir portion 64 can have a cylindrical external surface with an overall radius J.

The absorber attachment portion 66 extends away from the external surface of the fluid reservoir portion 64 and has a generally rectangular shape having a height K and a depth L. In some embodiments, the height K is approximately 1.0 inches and the depth L is approximately 0.5 inches. The absorber attachment portion 66 can have any of various other shapes, such as, for example, trapezoidal.

An elongate slot 74 is formed, such as by milling or an intrinsic slot made by extrusion, in the absorber attachment portion 66 and penetrates an external surface of the absorber attachment portion. The slot 74 extends less than the length of the header 60 and is approximately equal to or slightly longer than the overall width B of the absorber 20, has a width approximately equal to or slightly wider than the overall depth C of the absorber, and has a depth equal to or less than the depth L. In this manner, the slot 74 is configured to matingly receive the end of the absorber 20 within the absorber attachment portion 66. The absorber can be retained within the elongate slot 74 through use of an adhesive or other known bonding technique. Absorber 20 may slide into attachment portion 66 which forms a seal with a gasket or other known “slip in” methods. When attached to each other, the absorber 20 and top and bottom headers 60, 62 can be referred to as an absorber assembly.

In certain implementations, a fluid inlet feed slot 76 is formed in the header in fluid receiving communication with the fluid passageway 68 and fluid expelling communication with the fluid chambers of the absorber 20 when the absorber is received within the elongate slot 74. In other words, the fluid inlet feet slot 76 provides a channel between the fluid passageway 68 and the fluid chambers of the absorber 20 through which solar absorptive heat transfer fluid is permitted to flow. The fluid inlet feed slot 76 slot extends a substantial portion of the elongate slot 74 such that each of the fluid chambers of the absorber 20 are in at least partial fluid receiving communication with the fluid inlet feed slot 76. In the illustrated embodiment, the fluid inlet feed slot 76 is a single continuous slot. In other embodiments, the fluid inlet feed slot can be multiple slots spaced apart along the length of the elongate slot.

In certain implementations, the top and bottom headers 60, 62 are plated with a reflective layer, such as a metallic layer, to reflect solar energy from the sun and prevent solar radiation from contacting any solar absorptive heat transfer fluid flowing through the headers or solar absorptive heat transfer fluid residually remaining within the headers in the event solar absorptive heat transfer fluid is drained or otherwise removed from the panels as will be described in more detail below.

In certain applications, absorber assemblies such as those described above are placed in housings. Referring now to FIGS. 16 and 17, an embodiment of an absorber assembly housing is illustrated. In FIGS. 16 and 17, a body 100 includes a base 102 and a cover assembly 104. The base 102 is an at least partially rigid structure having a bottom wall 106, four side walls 108 extending transversely from the bottom wall and an open top end opposite the bottom wall. The bottom wall 106 and side walls 108 define a recess 109 within which the absorber assembly, including the headers, is positioned. In certain implementations, the absorber assembly is coupled to the base 102 such that absorber 20 lays relatively flat against the bottom wall 106 and the headers are matingly received within and extend through apertures formed in the side walls 108. This can be accomplished by forming recesses in the bottom wall 106 for receiving at least a portion of the headers 60, 62. When positioned within the recess 109, the side walls 108 extend upwardly away from the bottom wall a distance substantially greater than the overall depth C of the absorber such that the upper surfaces of the side walls are elevated above that of the absorber and headers.

In some implementations, the absorber 20 is attached to, such as adhesively bonded to, an upper surface of the bottom wall 106 such that the absorber and base 102 form a unified assembly. In other implementations, the absorber 20 is secured to the base 100 via the mating engagement between the sides 108 of the base 100 and the headers without any direct attachment of the absorber to the base.

The base 102 acts as an insulator to reduce conductive, convective and radiated heat losses from the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid flowing through the absorber 20. Moreover, the base 102 can provide structural support and rigidity for enduring the environmental conditions in which the collector portion will operate. Accordingly, in some embodiments, the base 102 is made from structural foam, such as polyurethane foam. The thickness of the bottom wall 106 and side walls 108 is determined based on the desired maximum heat loss through the absorber 20 and the R-Value of the foam. For example, in certain implementations, the bottom wall 106 or side walls 108 can be two-inch thick inexpensive polyurethane foam having an insulating value of R-3 or greater per inch. In one embodiment, the inexpensive foam has an R-10 insulation value.

Typically, inexpensive foams such as polyurethane foam tend to melt at temperatures around 200° F. Accordingly, conventional solar collectors would require more expensive foams capable of operating at higher temperatures, or a “buffer insulation” between the absorber and the foam, commonly associated with such conventional collectors. As will be described in more detail below, the ability of the solar energy apparatus described herein to control operating temperatures allows for the use of lower cost foam materials relative to conventional solar collectors.

In some embodiments, the portions of the base 102 and side walls 108 that may be exposed to solar radiation are plated or painted with a metallic layer to reflect the radiation and prevent UV damage to the base.

The cover assembly 104 includes a cover 110 coupled to the top surfaces of the side walls 108 and cover supports 112 positioned within the recess 109 between the cover 110 and the absorber 20. The cover 110 may hermetically seal off an insulation chamber 114 defined between the side walls 108, bottom wall 106, cover 110, and absorber 20. In some implementations, a seal or flexible adhesive is positioned between the cover 110 and the side walls 108 and cover supports 112 to attach the cover to the side wall and cover supports and to sealingly enclose the insulation chamber 114. The insulation chamber 114 can include dead air or a noble or inert gas, such as Argon, to better insulate the absorber from the environment. The cover 110 can be sealed to the top surfaces of the side walls 108 with any of various adhesives or with other mechanical assemblies, such as an aluminum U-channel perimeter frame and gaskets. Such a U-channel can also provide an attachment point for coupling the collector to a mounting surface, such as a roof.

Each cover support 112 can be an elongate beam, such as a plastic I-beam, having a first side attached to the cover 110 and a second side opposite the first side attached to or simply touching the absorber 20. The cover supports 112 couple the cover 110 to the absorber 20 to provide structural support to the cover 110.

As described above, in some implementations, the absorber is coupled to the base 102 and the cover 110 via the cover supports 112 by an adhesive or other known method of attachment e to form an integrated structural solar energy connector capable of withstanding harsh environmental conditions.

In specific implementations, the absorber 20, cover 110, cover supports 112 are made of a optically transparent plastic. The plastic can be any of various plastics characterized by any of various parameter values or performance characteristics depending on the desired application, manufacturing costs or other variables. Listed in Table 1 below are several clear plastic parameters, associated general descriptions of the parameter, parameter values according to various embodiments, and associated comments. The parameters, parameter descriptions, parameter values, and comments listed in Table 1 are associated with the characteristics of exemplary types of plastics that can be used to form the plastic components of some embodiments of the solar energy apparatus described herein. In other embodiments, the plastic components can be made of plastics having performance characteristics outside of the value ranges specified in Table 1.

TABLE 1
Exemplary
ParameterDescriptionCommentValue Range
Absorptivity toAbility to convert sunlightIn some implementations, lower<0.05
visible + UV lightinto heat inside the material.values are desirable.
Emissivity toAbility to emit infrared.In some implementations, lower<0.2
infrared lightvalues are desirable. Low values of
emissivity reduce need for low
emissivity values of the solar
absorptive heat transfer fluid.
Transmissivity toAbility to transmit sunlightIn some implementations, higher>0.9
visible + UV lightwithout attenuation.values are desirable, particularly as
the number of layers of plastic
between sun and solar absorptive
heat transfer fluid increases.
Reflectivity toPercentage of incident lightIn some implementations, lower<0.05%
visible + UV lightreflecting off the surface ofvalues are desirable, particularly as
the plastic.the number of layers of plastic
between sun and solar absorptive
heat transfer fluid increases.
ThermalAbility of a substance toIn some implementations, lower<1.5 (BTU-
Conductivityconduct heat per unit lengthvalues are desirable. Lowin/hr-ft2-F.)
for a given cross-sectionalconductivity can provide top layer
surface area.insulation.
Operating PointLow temperature at whichIn some implementations, it is<−40° F.
plastic begins to beadvantageous for the plastic to
functionally unstable.operate in a cold environment.
PlasticHigh temperature at which aIn some implementations, higher>220° F.
Deformationplastic becomes structurallytemperatures are desirable.
Temperatureunstable.
FlammabilityAbility of plastic to supportIn some implementations, lowerLow
combustion.flammability values are desirable.
FluidAbility of plastic to remainIn some implementations, plastic isHigh
Compatibilityfunctionally operable whencompatible with solar absorptive
in contact with fluid.heat transfer fluid for at least 30
years.
CostFair market value of plastic.Post-extrusion or post-molded.<$2/Pound
LifetimeTime period in whichIn some implementations, efficiency>10 Years
plastic remains functionallymay decrease by 20% after 30 years,
stable with similar physicaland by 10% after 10 years.
and optical properties.
StainingAbility of the plastic toStaining may result in the absorptionHigh
resist staining.of heat & fluid contact. In some
implementations, small amounts of
staining can be tolerated as internal
stagnation temperature fluid may be
increased as a result. Surface
coatings can ameliorate this
requirement.
Permeability toAbility of liquid to diffuseIn some implementations, fluidLow
liquidthrough plastic.should not permeate through the
plastic.
Permeability to airAbility of air to diffuseIn some implementations, gasLow
and vaporthrough plasticpermeation through the plastic
should be minimal
UV resistantAbility of plastic to resistIn some implementations, asHigh
physical and optical damagetransmissivity remains high, the
from UV rays over time.plastic is able to resist UV rays.
Glue AdhesionTemperature at whichIn some implementations, glue stops~250° F.
plastic loses ability toworking when plastic starts to loose
remain adhesively bondedits properties.
to glue.
HardnessResistance of plastic toEnvironment can cause scratches onHigh
indentation under a staticouter shell top surface. Such
load or to scratchingscratches can undesirably cause
some reflection and some absorption
of solar energy. Hail, or objects
hurled by the wind, may damage or
ruin top surface.
Tensile StrengthAbility of plastic to resistIn some implementations, the higherHigh
longitudinal stress withoutthe tensile strength, the better so as
tearing apart.to resist environmental elements,
such as wind suction, and to remain
secured to the collection portion.
This may reduce when exposed to
UV light.

Referring to FIG. 17, in some embodiments, the cover 110 is made of plastic that meets more performance characteristics, such as those described above, than the plastic of which the front panel 22 of the absorber 20 is made of. Similarly, in some embodiments, the plastic of the front panel 22 of the absorber 20 meets more performance characteristics, such as those described above, than the plastic of which the rear panel 24 of the absorber is made. In other words, in some embodiments, the requirements for the plastic of the cover 110 are more stringent than the requirements for the plastic of the front panel 22 of the absorber 20, and the requirements for the plastic of the front panel 22 are more stringent than the requirements for the plastic of the rear panel 24 of the absorber.

In some embodiments, the plastic components can be made from Lexan SLX2432T, manufactured by General Electric. In some embodiments, other plastics, such as polycarbonate and acrylic plastics, can be used.

Prior to collecting solar energy, the collection portion does not contain solar absorptive heat transfer fluid. In this non-operational state, solar energy penetrates the cover 110, front panel 22, absorber chamber 34, and rear panel 24 and is reflected by the reflective layer 44 to the atmosphere with minimal absorption. Further, solar energy is reflected off the reflective layers on the base 102 and bottom and top headers. Because little to no solar energy is absorbed in this non-operational state, the temperature of the components of the collection portion 12 and the overall temperature of the collection portion remains relatively unchanged, i.e., approximately equal to ambient temperature.

FIGS. 18, 19 and 20 illustrate another embodiment of a housing for an absorber assembly. Referring to FIG. 18, an extruded collector assembly 500 includes at least three components: a shell 560, headers 540, 550, which may be identical, and end caps 510, 520, which may be identical. An adhesive, or any other known bonding or coupling method, secures the components in the proper position.

In the illustrated embodiment, the shell 560 includes a generally hollow, rectangular-shaped shell having spaced-apart front and rear walls 511, 512 and two side walls 515 positioned around opposite sides of and coupling the front and rear walls. The shell 560 includes spaced-apart top and bottom open ends 513, 514, respectively.

The end caps 510, 520 are coupled to the bottom and top ends 514, 513, respectively, of the shell 560 to partially encapsulate the headers 540, 550. The end caps 510, 520 can be attached to the ends of the shell 560 with a suitable adhesive or other known connecting method. For example, although not shown, in some implementations, the shell 560, headers 540, 550 and end caps 510, 520 can be coupled together using flexible gaskets, joints, bellows, or other known flexible attachment method to seal and allow movement between the shell, headers, and end caps. Such a flexible attachment method can allow for independent movement between the shell 560 and an absorber housed therein, such as when the temperatures of the various components of the collector assembly 500 are different or changed relative to each other.

As shown in FIGS. 19 and 20, the shell 560 also includes a plurality of spaced-apart absorber support members 563 positioned between the walls of the shell and extending transversely from the front wall 511 to the rear wall 512. An absorber 562 is positioned within the shell 560 via the support members 563 as described in greater detail below. Insulation cavities 564, 565 are formed within the shell as described in greater detail below.

As shown in FIG. 20, the support members 563 include absorber channels 570 within which an absorber, such as absorber 562, is held in place and properly positioned with respect to the walls of the shell. The absorber 562 is similar to and includes the same general features as the absorbers 20, 20A, 20B, 20C described above. Also, the support members 563 and side walls 515 can include recesses or cut-outs 561 for matingly receiving a respective one of the headers 540, 550 shown in FIG. 18. The headers can be secured within the cut-outs 561 with a suitable adhesive or other known connecting method.

The shell 560 allows light to transmit through to an absorber 562 and, in some embodiments, is made primarily of a UV resistant plastic or glass. The plastic material may have any or all of the characteristics described in Table 1 above. As with the absorbers previously described, the absorber 562 contains solar absorptive heat transfer fluid when in a solar energy absorption mode and does not contain solar absorptive heat transfer fluid when in a solar energy reflection mode.

The shell 560 includes upper and lower insulation cavities 564, 565, respectively. The upper insulation cavities 564 are defined between the front wall 511 of the shell and the absorber 562 and the lower insulation cavities are defined between the rear wall 512 and the absorber. The cavities 564, 565 provide dead air insulation above and below the absorber 562, respectively. In some embodiments, the lower insulation cavities 565 can be filled with an insulative material, such as foam beams or solid foam, to improve bottom insulation performance and strengthen the shell 560.

The front and rear panels of absorber 562 have a thickness D, which is defined above in relation to FIG. 3. Each support member 563 has a height that is substantially greater than its thickness. In certain implementations, the thickness of each support member 563 is smaller than the thickness D of the panels of the absorber 562. The reduced thickness of the support members 563 can relieve stresses associated with thermal expansion of the absorber 562 when the absorber 562 contains hot circulating solar absorptive heat transfer fluid and the shell 560 is cold. Since a tall, but thin, member offers high thermal resistance per unit length, the ratio of the height of supports 563 divided by the width of the supports may be large to minimize conduction of heat from the absorber 562 to the outer shell 560. As shown in FIG. 20, the support member 563 are spaced-apart a distance H from each other.

In some implementations, the thickness of the shell walls is greater than the thickness D of the absorber front and rear panels. Such a configuration can improve the structural performance of the shell and allow the shell to better withstand adverse environmental conditions.

As shown in FIGS. 18 and 19, the shell 560 has a length A, a width B, and a height L. In certain implementations, the length of the absorber 562 is slightly less than the length A of the shell 560 and the width of the absorber is slightly less than the width B of the shell. Configuring the absorber to be slightly shorter and narrower than the shell provides a space to attach the headers 510, 520 and provides space for horizontal and vertical thermal expansion when the headers are connected to absorber 562. Like the absorber described above, absorber 562 has a plurality of fluid channels through which an absorptive fluid can flow. Each channel has a width S and a depth or height E.

In one specific exemplary implementation, the length A is approximately 96 inches; the width B is approximately 48 inches; the thickness D is approximately 0.01 inches; the height E is approximately 0.10 inches; the width S is approximately 0.25 inches; the distance H is approximately 3.00 inches; and the height L is approximately 3.00 inches. The collector assembly 500 may weigh less than approximately 15 pounds, hold less than approximately 1.5 gallons of solar absorptive heat transfer fluid, and be manufactured inexpensively.

FIGS. 21 through 28 illustrate still another embodiment of a housing for an absorber assembly. As shown in FIGS. 21, 21A and 22, a shell 702 serves as a housing for a an absorber 701.

As shown in FIG. 21, the absorber 701 includes absorber panel 721, headers 760, 761 at the ends of the absorber panel 721 and a plurality of flex beams 741 coupled to the absorber panel 721, extending the length of the absorber panel and aligned perpendicularly to the headers 760, 761. FIG. 21A illustrates a front view of the absorber assembly. The absorber 701 consists of the absorber panel to which header pipes 760 and 761 attach at each end using an adhesive or other suitable method. Flex beams 741, spaced distance H apart, attach to the absorber panel 721 on the top and bottom surfaces using an adhesive or other suitable method. Distance L_abs must be less than A shown in FIG. 27. Distance W_abs must be less than B shown in FIG. 22. The height of the absorber must be less than L shown in FIG. 22.

As shown in FIG. 22, the shell 702 includes a generally hollow, rectangular-shaped shell having spaced-apart top and bottom panels 711, 731 and two side panels 751 and 752 positioned on opposite sides of and connecting to the top and bottom panels using side connecting beams 750 in four locations. Tracks 740, spaced H apart, attach to the top and bottom panels using an adhesive or other suitable method.

FIGS. 23 and 24 illustrate an expanded front view of the left side of the collector assembly 700 with headers 760 and 761 removed and a front view of the collector assembly 700 with headers 760 and 761 removed, respectively. The top panel 711 passes solar energy to the absorber panel 721 while providing insulation and infrared reflectivity. The absorber panel 721 contains a solar absorptive heat transfer fluid when collecting solar energy. When not collecting solar energy, the absorber panel 721 contains no solar absorptive heat transfer fluid. The bottom panel 731 provides insulation and infrared energy reflectivity. Side panel 751 provides insulation and infrared energy reflectivity. Corner beams 750 connect the top panel 711 to the left side panel 751 and right side panel 752. Corner beams 750 also connect the bottom panel 731 to the left side panel 751 and right side panel 752. Shell tracks 740 attach, by adhesive or other suitable method, to the top panel 711 and bottom panel 731. The distance H separates one track from the other. Absorber flex beams 741 attach, by adhesive or other suitable method, to the top and bottom surfaces of absorber 721. The distance H separates one flex beam from the other. The track 740 matingly receives flex beam 741 to connect the shell assembly 702 to the absorber assembly 701 while providing movement within the structure to adapt to temperature change and environmental stress.

Each flexible beam 741 has a length that is substantially greater than its thickness. Likewise, the length of the flexible beam 741, because of its serpentine shape, significantly exceeds its height. In certain implementations, the thickness of each support member 741 may be made considerably less than the total length of the serpentine support member. Since a long, but thin, member offers high thermal resistance per unit length, the ratio of the length of flexible beam 741 divided by the material thickness of the supports may be large to minimize conduction of heat from the absorber 721 to the outer panels 711 and 731. By intention, they form a very poor thermal connection to track 740.

While the flexible beam 741 is shown having a serpentine shape, any other flexible shape which accommodates lateral stress without failure may also be used for the flexible beam. For example, the flex beams may be comprised of two flexible beams opposing each other and bowing away from each other, like two opposing leaf springs.

FIG. 25 illustrates the relationship between the top panel 711, the absorber 721, the bottom panel 731 and the tracks 740 and flex beams 741 in three dimensional detail. With solar absorptive heat transfer fluid present, the temperature of the absorber 721 rises when exposed to solar radiation. A rising temperature produces expansion of the absorber in all dimensions. To accommodate expansion in the length of the absorber, the flex beam 741 slides within the track 740. The serpentine nature of the flex beam readily accepts changes in dimension of width and height. The compressive and expansive properties of the flex beam accept and adapt to ambient temperature variations, wind load, and impact from natural and man-made objects.

Referring back to FIGS. 23 and 24, one embodiment uses coatings and additives upon and within panel 711 to optimize performance. An ultra violet, UV, blocker with antireflective properties coats the top surface 710 of the top panel 711. This coating protects the top panel 711 and all components below from the harmful effects of UV radiation. The antireflective nature of the coating maximizes the amount of solar energy passing into the absorber panel 721, when filled with solar absorptive heat transfer fluid, over a range of incident sun angles. An infrared coating may also be applied to the top surface 710.

An infrared reflective coating 712 may be used to stop heat from being radiated to outside space when the collector 700 collects solar energy. The coating 712 passes incident energy to the absorber 721 while reflecting infrared emitted from the absorber 721 back to the absorber. The bottom surface of the top panel 711 may also include an ultraviolet blocker.

Specific coatings on the interior chambers, formed by E_shell and S_shell, of the top panel 711 determine part of the heat loss characteristics and thereby part of the insulation characteristics of the top panel 711. An optically transmissive coating applied to the interior chambers allows the top panel 711 to be filled with a noble or inert gas, such as argon, or support a vacuum to increase the thermal resistance over air filling the chamber. The interior chambers may also be made from an optically transmissive material, thereby eliminating the need for a coating. One embodiment uses a coating which entraps a noble or inert gas in the top panel 711. Significant increases in thermal resistivity occur under such a condition. A similar, or possibly different, coating may be applied to prevent gasses from entering the top panel 711. This coating permits the creation of a vacuum. In case of a vacuum, a getter may be inserted inside chambers of the top panel 711 Very high thermal resistance exists with a vacuum present on the interior of the top panel 711. Heat only conducts outward through the thin vertical support members of 711, where the ratio of E_shell to the thickness, D is large. The top panel's thermal conductivity is small compared to conventional solar collector top glazing, which is frequently glass. The top panel material may be low thermal conductivity plastic. The interior chambers may also be coated with an anti-staining material.

Coatings and additives upon and within bottom panel 731 optimize thermal performance. An infrared reflective coating 732 may be used to stop heat from being radiated to space when the collector 700 collects solar energy. The coating 732 returns infrared emitted from the absorber 721 back to the absorber. Coating 732 may also be an ultra violet, V, blocker with antireflective properties.

Coating 730 provides additional infrared reflectivity and may also have antireflective properties. Coating 730 and 732 may or may not be identical.

Specific coatings on the interior chambers, formed by E_shell and S_shell, of the bottom panel 731 determine part of the heat loss characteristics and thereby part of the insulation characteristics of the bottom panel 731. A coating applied to the interior chambers allows the bottom panel 731 to be filled with a noble or inert gas, such as argon, or support a vacuum to increase the thermal resistance over air filling the chamber. One embodiment uses a coating which entraps a noble or inert gas in the bottom panel 731. Significant increases in thermal resistivity occur under such a condition. A similar, or possibly different, coating may be applied to prevent gasses from entering the bottom panel 731. This coating permits the creation of a vacuum. In the case of a vacuum, a getter may be inserted inside chambers of bottom panel 731. Very high thermal resistance exists with a vacuum present on the interior of the bottom panel 731, heat only conducts outward through the thin vertical support members of 731, where the ratio of E_shell to the thickness, D is large. The thermal conductivity of the bottom panel is comparable to the thermal conductivity of the insulation commonly used on the bottom sides of the conventional solar collectors. The bottom panel material may be low thermal conductivity plastic. The interior chambers may also be coated with an anti-staining material.

The side panel 751, while differing in dimension from the bottom panel 731, uses similar coatings and exhibits similar performance.

While not shown in any drawings, insulation (fiberglass, foam, or other suitable type) may be inserted in the spaces between the absorber 721 and the bottom panel 731 to further increase collector efficiency. This insulation must be expandable and compressible or allow enough space to not interfere with the operation of the flex beams 741. Insulation may be applied outside of shell 702 on the bottom 731 and the sides 751 and 752 for additional heat loss reduction.

Coatings and additives upon and within the absorber panel 721 optimize performance. The antireflective nature of the coating maximizes the amount of solar energy passing into the absorber panel 721, when filled with solar absorptive heat transfer fluid, over a range of incident sun angles. A reflective coating 722 or reflective material applied by adhesive or other know means reflects the full spectrum of incident energy upwards back to sky with no solar absorptive heat transfer fluid present in the absorber 721. The combination of solar absorptive heat transfer fluid and a bottom reflective surface make the absorber 721 either solar absorptive when the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid is present, or solar reflective when no solar absorptive heat transfer fluid exists in the absorber 721.

A coating on the interior chambers, formed by E_abs and S_abs, prevents the absorption of the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid into the materials that form the absorber 721. Without any coating as the collector ages, the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid may enter the materials forming the absorber 721 and begin a discoloration process. As the absorber 721 discolors it absorbs incident solar energy even with no solar absorptive heat transfer fluid present. This effect causes the temperature of the absorber 721 to rise when exposed to solar radiation. With sufficient absorption of solar absorptive heat transfer fluid, the temperature of the absorber 721 may rise to a point where the materials forming the absorber 721 fail. The interior coating of the absorber 721 prevents staining and thereby material failure.

FIGS. 26, 27 and 28 illustrate a top, side and three dimensional view of the complete assembly, respectively. Corner beams 750 couple together the sides of the shell and flex beams 741 mate with shell tracks 740 to position the absorber inside the shell. End caps 770, 771 are coupled to the bottom and top ends of the shell for the purpose of partially encapsulating the headers 760, 761, and the entire absorber assembly. The end caps 770, 771 can be attached to the ends of the shell with a suitable adhesive or other known connecting method. For example, although not shown, in some implementations, the shell headers 760, 761 and end caps 770, 771 can be coupled together using flexible gaskets, joints, bellows, or other known flexible attachment method to seal and allow movement between the shell, headers, and end caps. Such a flexible attachment method can allow for independent movement between the shell and absorber, such as when the temperatures of the various components of the collector assembly are different or changed relative to each other.

With specific reference to FIG. 27, openings 753 provide access to headers 760,761. Connecting pipes with suitable couplers attach through these openings. In this manner, one collector assembly 700 may be connected to another collector assembly 700, or headers 760 and 761 may be connected to their respective feed and return lines. With end caps 770 and 771 removed, the couplers may be attached to the headers by mechanical means, or by using an adhesive or other suitable method.

As shown in FIGS. 24, 26 and 28, the collector 700 has a length A, a width B, and a height L. In all implementations, the length of the absorber 701 is slightly less than the length A of the shell 702 and the width of the absorber is slightly less than the width B of the shell. Configuring the absorber to be slightly shorter and narrower than the shell provides a space to attach the headers 760, 761 and provides space for horizontal and vertical thermal expansion when the headers are connected to absorber 721. Like the absorber described above, absorber 721 has a plurality of fluid channels through which an absorptive fluid can flow. As shown in FIG. 23, each channel has a width S_abs and a depth or height E_abs.

In one specific exemplary implementation, the length A is approximately 96 inches; the width B is approximately 48 inches; the material thickness D is approximately 0.01 inches; the height E_abs is approximately 0.16 inches; the width S_abs is approximately 0.16 inches; the width S_shell is approximately 0.50 inches and E_shell is approximately 0.50 inches; the distance H is approximately 12.00 inches; and the height L is approximately 3.00 inches. The collector assembly 700 may weigh less than approximately 25 pounds, hold less than approximately 3.0 gallons of solar absorptive heat transfer fluid, and be manufactured inexpensively.

In other embodiments described herein, the absorber is built into the housing. Referring to FIGS. 29 and 30, a collector 200 having a collection portion 202 is shown. Collection portion 202 is similar to collection portion 12, but is configured to circulate solar absorptive heat transfer fluid in a top to bottom direction rather than a bottom to top direction as with collector 10. The collection portion 202 includes a body 210 having a foam base 212, three large elongate foam ribs 214, four small elongate foam ribs 215, two large elongate foam side ribs 222, and two small elongate foam side ribs 223. The number of large elongate form ribs and small elongate foam ribs may be greater than or less than the stated numbers and other materials similar to foam may also be used. The surfaces of the foam components may also be coated with a material making the foam impermeable to circulating fluid.

Base 212 is generally rectangular with a rear wall 216, a top wall 217, and a bottom wall 219 projecting transversely from the rear wall. An absorber recess 220 is defined between the rear wall 216 and the side walls 218 shown in FIG. 30. Top and bottom headers 242, 244 are located at the top and bottom end 230, 232, respectively. Arrow 254, 255 and 256 indicate the direction of flow of solar absorptive heat transfer fluid when the collector is in operation.

Referring to FIG. 31, the small elongate foam ribs 215 project transversely away from rear wall 216 and extend the length of the recess 220 from the top wall 217 at a top end 230 of the body 210 to the bottom wall 219 at a bottom end 232 of the body 210 as shown in FIG. 29. The small elongate foam ribs 215 extend generally parallel to each other and the side ribs 223 from the top end 230 to the bottom end 232 shown in FIG. 29. Each of the small elongate foam ribs 215 are spaced-apart from the side ribs 223 a distance “n times D1” where n is the number of small elongate foam ribs between the foam rib in question (including itself) and a side rib 223.

The large elongate foam ribs 214 project transversely relative to the rear wall 216 and extend from the top end 230 to the bottom end 232 of the body 210 shown in FIG. 29. Each large elongate foam rib 214 is aligned with a small elongate foam rib 215, positioned between two adjacent small elongate foam ribs 215, and extends generally parallel to the adjacent small elongate foam ribs. Each of the large elongate foam ribs 214 are spaced-apart from the side ribs 222 a distance “n times D2” where n is the number of large elongate foam ribs between the foam rib in question (including itself) and a side rib 222. In the illustrated implementation, D2 is greater than D1.

Referring to FIGS. 31 and 32, the collection portion 202 includes an inner optical layer 240 supported by and attached to the small elongate foam ribs 215 and side ribs 223. In the illustrated implementation, the inner optical layer 240 is positioned above the small ribs 215, 223 such that several fluid chambers 229 are defined between the base 216, the inner optical layer 240 and adjacent small ribs 215, 223. The fluid chambers 229 are in fluid receiving communication with the top header 242 and fluid expelling communication with the bottom header 244 shown in FIG. 29.

The collection portion 202 also includes an outer optical layer 250 supported by and attached to the large elongate foam ribs 214 and side ribs 222. The optical layer 250 and dead-air, or inert gas in some implementations, located within insulation chambers 252 defined between the inner optical layer 240, the outer optical layer 250, and adjacent large ribs act as an insulator in the same manner as the cover 110 and insulation chamber 114. As with collection portion 12, the inner and outer optical layers 240, 250, which may be made of a plastic material having some or all of the characteristics described in Table 1 above, provide two layers of insulation between the environment and the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid circulating through the fluid chambers. The two layers of insulation assist in keeping heat stored in the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid from being lost via radiation, conduction, or convection into the outside environment.

In some embodiments, the base 212, large ribs 214, 222, and small foam ribs 215, 223 are plated with a reflective layer or coating to reflect sunlight to keep the components of the collection portion 202 cool and, in some embodiments, keep ultraviolet light from damaging the plastic or insulation. Additionally, the reflective layer can enhance solar energy absorption by redirecting the sunlight striking the ribs into solar absorptive heat transfer fluid contained within the fluid chambers, thereby increasing the overall efficiency of the collector 200.

Referring to FIG. 33, in operation, solar absorption fluid, such black fluid 270, enters the top header 242 as indicated by directional arrow 254 via a pump and lines much like the collector 10 as previously described. Once the header 242 is filled up to the level where its liquid meets the recess, fluid overflows from the header and into the fluid chambers. The fluid is then continuously gravity fed downward through the fluid chambers as indicated by directional arrows 255 from the top end 230 to the bottom end 232, collecting solar energy along the way, until it collects in and exits from the bottom header 244 as indicated by directional arrow 256.

FIG. 34 illustrates another embodiment of a combined housing and absorber. As shown in FIG. 34, a solar energy collector 400 includes a collection portion 402 with four layers of extruded plastic or glass, e.g., a top layer 410, bottom layer 412, upper middle layer 414, and lower middle layer 416. The plastic material may have some or all of the characteristics described in Table 1 above. Additionally, the plastic may be coated with a material to make the plastic impermeable to vapor and air.

The top layer 410 and upper middle layer 414, and bottom layer 412 and lower middle layer 416, can be coupled together in a spaced apart relationship via a plurality of spacers 420. The spacers 420 can run a length of the collection portion 402 such that vacuum chambers 422 are formed between respective layers and spacers. The air within the vacuum chambers 422 can be vacated to form a vacuum within each of the vacuum chambers. Getters may be placed inside each vacuum chamber. The vacuum chambers may also be chambers filled with dead air, inert gas or noble gas, rather than a vacuum.

The upper and lower middle layers 414, 416 are coupled together in a spaced apart relationship via absorption chamber spacers 424. As with the spacers 420, the absorption chamber spacers 424 can extend a length of the collection portion 402 such that fluid chambers 426 are defined between the upper and lower layers 414, 416 and respective spacers 424. Although not shown, headers can be implemented at respective inlets and outlets to the chambers 426 and solar absorptive heat transfer fluid can be pumped into the chambers 426 via one header and out of the chambers via another header. Top and bottom headers may be recessed to allow only chamber 426 to connect to top and bottom headers.

As the solar absorption fluid flows between the headers and through the fluid chambers 426, it collects solar energy. The vacuum chambers 422 are vacated of air to create a vacuum that provides an insulating barrier for preventing conducted and convective heat losses from the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid as it flows through the fluid chambers 426.

In some implementations, the fluid chambers 426 have a depth of approximately 0.05 inches.

The collection portion 402 has a width Q and an overall depth R. In some implementations, the width Q is approximately 6.0 inches and the depth R is approximately 0.5 inches.

Although not specifically shown, in some implementations, the collection portion 402 may have foam insulation, e.g., a body, surrounding sides 430, ends (not shown) and bottom layer 412 of the collection portion. Also, a reflective layer 432, such as a plated metallic layer, may be coupled to the outer surface of the bottom layer 412 to reflect solar light when the fluid chambers 426 are not filled with solar absorption fluid. Further, although the implementation of the solar energy collector 400 illustrated in FIG. 34 has four layers, in other implementations, the solar energy collector can have more or less than four layers.

In some embodiments, one or more collection portions can be arranged in series or parallel and coupled to each other directly or via common headers to effectively provide a wider solar energy absorption area.

Referring now to FIGS. 35-39, a modular solar collection system 600 according to one embodiment is shown. Similar to the collection systems described above, modular solar collection system 600 collects energy through use of a circulating or absorptive fluid, such as black fluid. The modular solar collection system 600 is configured to be easily connectable to adjacent collection systems as will be described in more detail below.

Referring to FIG. 35, the collector assembly is shown with each component of the assembly separated and also with each component stacked together into the collector assembly. Collector assembly 600 includes an absorber assembly 610, frame assembly 620, foam assembly 630, gasket 640, clear top cover assembly 650, and top retainers 660.

Referring now to FIGS. 36, 37 and 38, illustrating a side, front and top view of the collector assembly, the absorber assembly 610 is similar to the absorbers 20, 20A, 20B, 20C described above. Generally, the absorber assembly includes an absorber 613 coupled to two headers 611, 612 using adhesive or other known coupling techniques. The absorber 613 can be made of a clear extruded material, such as UV protected polycarbonate plastic having characteristics as described in Table 1 above, and have an overall thickness C. In some instances, the thickness C can be approximately 0.25 inches, and in other instances, the thickness C can be less than or greater than 0.25 inches. The absorber assembly 610 includes one or more fluid chambers (not shown) such as described above. In certain implementations, the fluid chambers of the absorber assembly 610 can contain approximately one gallon of solar absorptive heat transfer fluid.

The frame assembly 620 includes a right side beam 622, left side beam 626, top beam 627, bottom beam 621, header mounting apertures 623, and top cover assembly supports 624. The header mounting apertures 623 receive the headers of the absorber assembly 610 and allow access to the headers from a location external to the collection system 600. The top cover assembly supports 624 are spaced-apart along the right and left side beams 622, 626 at appropriate intervals to align with mating structures on the top cover assembly as will be described in more detail below.

The foam assembly 630 comprises a generally rectangular sheet of foam 631 having a thickness that can be approximately half a total thickness R of the collector assembly 600. In some implementations, sealant materials can be applied to the surfaces of the sheet of foam 631 to reduce out gassing and enhance collector performance. In some implementations, the foam is encapsulated inside a high permeability substance such as plastic. The top surface of the sheet of foam 631 can also be coated with a reflective material 635 to reflect incident solar energy to the sky when fluid is not present in the absorber assembly 610 such that the internal temperature of the collector 600 is near ambient temperature. When fluid is present in the absorber assembly 610, the reflective material 635 can, in some implementations, effectively increase the absorption path length through the fluid by a factor of two. More specifically, incident solar energy that enters the fluid, but is not absorbed, reflects off the reflective material 635 and passes through the fluid a second time for reabsorption.

In some implementations, a moisture barrier 636 can be coated on the bottom of the sheet of foam 631 and right and left side beams 622 and 626 to prevent moisture from entering the foam and the assembly 600. The foam assembly 630 can have stepped ends or recesses 632, 633 for receiving the headers of the absorber assembly 610 and allowing for thermal expansion and contraction of the absorber as it heats up and cools down.

The frame assembly 620 is coupled to the foam assembly 630 and extends about a periphery of the foam assembly. In certain implementations, adhesives secure the frame assembly 620 to the foam assembly 630 to increase the overall strength of the collection assembly 600 and provide a seal between the frame assembly and the foam assembly.

In the illustrated implementation, the absorber assembly 610 rests upon, but is not attached to, the foam assembly 630. The foam assembly 630 vertically centers the absorber assembly 610 within the frame assembly 620. The absorber assembly 610, e.g., the absorber 613 and attached headers 611, 612, has a length less than the length A of the collector assembly 600 and a width less than the width B of the collector assembly such that the absorber assembly can fit into and float within the frame assembly 620. The floating nature of the absorber assembly 610 accommodates the thermal expansion and contraction of the absorber as hot solar absorptive heat transfer fluid is either added (expansion) or removed (contraction).

The top cover assembly 650 comprises a generally rectangular plastic sheet having a front wall 654, a top wall 652, and a bottom wall 651. In some implementations, the plastic may be polycarbonate and may have some or all of the characteristics described in Table 1 above. The top cover assembly 650 also includes beams 653 secured to an inner surface of the front wall 654 and extending parallel to the top and bottom walls 652, 651. The beams 653 can be secured to the front wall 654 by an adhesive or other known fastening method. The beams 653 are sized and shaped to be matingly received and laterally secured in slots formed in the top cover assembly supports 624 of the frame assembly 620. The top and bottom walls 652, 651 can, in some implementations, provide a weather seal and function as an end beam as well.

The collector assembly 600 includes a pair of top retainers or brackets 660 that at least partially secure the top cover assembly 650 to the frame assembly 620. In certain implementations, the top retainers 660 each include a central portion that extends lengthwise across the top cover assembly 650 between the top wall 652 and the bottom wall 651 and tabs that extend perpendicularly from the central portion and overlap the top and bottom walls. The tabs can be secured to the frame assembly 620 through use of a fastener or other coupling technique. When secured to the frame assembly 620, the top retainers 660 secure the top cover assembly 650 in compression. Accordingly, the top retainers 660 prevent front to rear motion of the top cover assembly 650 relative to the frame assembly 620 and the mating engagement between the support beam 653 and the cover assembly supports 624 prevents side to side motion of the top cover assembly relative to the frame assembly. In this manner, the top cover assembly 650 can maintain its structural integrity during severe weather conditions and not make contact with the absorber assembly 610.

As has been described above, the foam assembly 630 seals a bottom of the collector assembly 600, frame 620 seals the sides of the collector assembly, and the top 650 in conjunction with a gasket 640 seals the top of the assembly. Top retainers 660 compress the top 650 into the gasket 640 to form a complete perimeter seal.

In an exemplary implementation, the length A is approximately 102 inches; the width B is approximately 52 inches; the thickness C is approximately 0.16 inches; and the depth R is approximately 4 inches. The beams of the frame assembly 620 can have a thickness of approximately 1 inch and a height of approximately 4 inches. The support beams 653 can have a thickness of approximately 0.25 inches and a height of approximately 1.25 inches. The collector assembly 600 according to this exemplary implementation, can weigh less than approximately 30 pounds and may hold less than 3 gallons of solar absorptive heat transfer fluid.

In another exemplary implementation, the length A is approximately 106 inches; the width B is approximately 52 inches; the thickness C is approximately 0.25 inches; and the depth R is approximately 3.5 inches. The beams of the frame assembly 620 can have a thickness of approximately 1 inch and a height of approximately 4 inches. The foam assembly 630 is approximately 1.5 inches thick and the frame 620 is made from 1.0 inch by 3.5 inch PVC foam board. The absorber fluid chambers have a height E of approximately 0.25 inches and a width S of approximately 0.25 inches such that the absorber holds approximately 5 gallons of fluid.

In some embodiments, the collector assembly 600 provides several advantages. For example, collector assembly 600 is made of inexpensive materials such that the collector assembly is light, strong, weather-proof, easily installed, and aesthetically appealing. The extensive use of plastics and foam in the collector assembly reduces the weight of the assembly, which can lend to easy installation versus heavier collectors. Employing securing structures extending in the directions of dimensions A and B, as well as securing many of the components together using adhesives and fasteners, results in a structurally strong and long-lasting collector assembly. The full perimeter gasket, folded down top cover assembly, and the use of sealant adhesives produce weather tight seals. Additionally, the configuration of the collector assembly 600 resists rain, snow, sleet, and ice build-up by providing smooth top surfaces on which accumulation will readily slide. Also, as described above, the floating nature of the absorber facilitates connecting adjacent units (as will be described below) using simple flexible pipe. Aesthetically, there are no visible components other than the case top and sides. For example, all pipes, connectors, and roof mounts remain out of sight under the top cover assembly 650.

As shown in FIG. 39, in certain implementations, the modular solar collection system 600 is connectable, such as in parallel, to other collector assemblies. In one specific implementation, such as shown in FIG. 38, three collection systems 600 are connected in parallel. Although three collection systems interconnected are shown, in other implementations, fewer or more than three collection systems can be connected together in parallel or otherwise. Flexible couplers (not shown) extending through holes 623 connect one collector assembly 600 to another connector assembly 600. In some implementations, ten or more collector assemblies can be connected together. In some instances, on-site assembly of a collector assembly array can be accomplished in less than a day by a crew of two. In the event an additional collector assembly is needed, such as when more solar surface area coverage to capture more energy is desired, one or more additional collector assemblies can be easily connected in any of various configurations known in the art.

The collector assembly 600 provides a combination of excellent energy collection performance, low manufacturing cost, and low installation cost. Accordingly, the collector assembly 600 can provide a considerable benefit to heat energy consumers.

Turning now to FIG. 40, and according to one embodiment of a drainback system with a fluid reservoir 154 contained within the thermal storage mass 152, a solar energy apparatus, e.g., solar energy collector, or collection system, 10, includes a solar energy collection portion 12. The collection portion 12 includes an absorber 20, a bottom header 60, a top header 62, and a frame 100. The solar energy collection portion 12 has a generally rectangular configuration although any other suitable geometry could be used.

The collector 10 includes a solar energy distribution system 14. The solar energy distribution system 14 includes a fluid pump 150, thermal storage mass 152 and fluid reservoir 154 in thermal communication with each other via heat exchanger 158. In some implementations, lines, as used herein, can be insulated conduits or pipes.

In operation, solar absorptive fluid, e.g., black fluid, which is stored in the reservoir 154, is pumped via lines 156 by pump 150 into the bottom header 60 at the open end 70 as indicated by directional arrow 161. Black fluid entering the bottom header 60 flows through the fluid passageway of the header and is initially contained within the header by the closed end 72 of the header. The fluid passageway of header 60 fills with black liquid until the fluid reaches the level of the infeed slot 76 shown in FIG. 14. Further pumping of fluid into the fluid passageway of the header causes fluid to flow through the slot 76 and into the absorber chambers. As pumping continues, fluid flows upward in the direction indicated by directional arrow 163 from the bottom end 38 of the absorber to the top end 42 until the entire absorber fills with black fluid as shown in FIG. 2.

Once the absorber chambers are filled, further pumping causes fluid to enter the top header 62 via an outfeed slot (not shown) similar to the infeed slot 76. The fluid passageway of the top header 62 fills with fluid in the same manner as the bottom header 60 until the passageway is at least partially full and fluid exits the top header via its open end 70 in a direction indicated by directional arrow 165. From the open end 70 of the top header 62, the fluid enters fluid line 157 and flows into heat exchanger 158, then returns to the reservoir 154. Storage mass 152, which can be any thermal mass commonly known in the art, stores heat for use by other devices (not shown) attached to the system.

Although FIG. 40 shows operation with only one collector assembly 12, in other embodiments, several collector assemblies may be connected in series or in parallel.

In operation, the pump 150 cyclically pumps fluid through the system such that fluid continuously flows upward through the absorber chambers. As black fluid flows through the absorber 20, solar energy from the sun is absorbed in the black fluid as thermal energy. The thermal energy is then transferred to the thermal energy storage mass 152 via header 62 and transport pipe 157, and heat exchanger 158.

The black, or sufficiently high absorptivity, fluid can have any of various properties or performance characteristics depending on the application or the structure of the collector, such as the depth of the absorber chambers. For example, listed in Table 2 below are several solar absorptive heat transfer fluid parameters, associated general descriptions of the parameters, parameter values according to various embodiments, and associated comments. The parameters, values, and comments listed in Table 2 are merely examples of parameters and parameter value ranges of implementations of solar absorptive heat transfer fluid that can be used in the solar energy apparatus described herein. In other embodiments, the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid can have performance characteristics that are not listed in Table 2 or fall outside of the value ranges specified in Table 2.

TABLE 2
Exemplary
ParameterDescriptionCommentValue Range
AbsorptivityA measure of the ability toIn some implementations, higher>0.95
convert sunlight into heat.absorptivity is desired.
EmissivityAbility to emit infrared.In some implementations, lower<0.90
emissivity is desired.
EvaporationThe relative amount ofEvaporation can degrade opticalVery Low
energy required to convertperformance. Moreover, evaporated
a liquid into a vapor pergases may escape and result in fluid
unit mass.loss. In some implementations,
evaporation is minimal.
Pigments orMaterials with highIn some implementations, higherHighly
Dyesabsorptivity that dissolveabsorptivity is desired. Moreover,Absorptive
or stay in suspensionpigments and dies should be selected
within a liquidthat do not evaporate, adhere to
surfaces, or hamper circulation.
Liquid AbrasionAbility of fluid toGenerally, the liquid should notVery Low
frictionally wear downsignificantly wear out fluid
other materials throughcontaining structures or the pigments
fluid flow.or dyes.
Specific HeatHeat capacity per unitIn some implementations, higher>0.4
massvalues for specific heat are desired.BTU/Pound-
deg F.
DensityUnit mass or weight of aNot directly a performance measureNot applicable
material (in this case a
liquid) per unit volume.
Density -A measure of the heatIn some implementations, high<50
Specific Heatenergy added per unit“Density times Specific Heat” isBTU/cubic
Productvolume of a material todesirable because it directly effectsfoot of
raise its temperature 1the required flow rate and thereby thesubstance
degree F.resulting pump size.
ThermalAbility of a fluid toIn some implementations, high>4.0 (BTU-
Conductivityconduct heat-per unitthermal conductivity is desired, suchin/hr-ft2-F.)
length for a given cross-as proximate a thermal mass.
sectional surface area.
Freezing PointTemperature at which fluidIn some implementations, a low<−40° F.
freezes.freezing point is desired for various
reasons, such as freezing problems
which break pipes.
Boiling PointTemperature at which fluidIn some implementations, higher>200° F.
boils.boiling points are preferred to reduce
danger, increase safety and prolong
operability of the collector.
ViscosityAbility of fluid to resist itsIn some implementations, lowLow
own flowing.viscosity values are desirable. Higher
values may require a larger pump.
Generally, aging and liquid
temperature are factors that
determine the viscosity of the fluid.
Surface TensionAbility of fluid to formLow surface tension allows the fluidLow
tension on its surface thatto fully drain from the absorber,
holds itself together.results in less capillary action and
wicking. This reduces problems of
pipes breaking during freezing.
FlammabilityAbility of fluid to supportIn some implementations, lowerLow
combustion.flammability values are desirable.
PlasticAbility of fluid to remainIn some implementations, plastic isHigh
Compatibilityfunctionally operablecompatible with solar absorptive heat
when in contact withtransfer fluid for at least 30 years.
plastic.
CostFair market value of fluid.In some implementations, lower fluid<$10/gallon
cost is desirable.
LifetimeTime period in which fluidIn some implementations, the fluid is>3 Years
remains functionally stablereplaced once every three years. In
certain implementations, the
controller includes a computer that
provides a notification to replace the
fluid.
StainingPropensity of the fluid toStaining may result in the absorptionLow
stain.of heat during stagnation which may
cause plastic to break over a period of
time.
PermeabilityAbility of fluid toIn some implementations, theLow
permeate through plastic.permeability of the fluid is desirably
low. This is a function of the fluid
and the plastic of Table 1 together.
Resistant to O2Ability of fluid to resistIn some implementations, fluid isHigh
and UVoxidization and UVgenerally resistant to oxidization and
damage.UV damage.
Eco-friendlyMeasure of negativeGenerally desirable to reduce long-Low
impact on environment.and short-term harm to environment.
FutureAbility to change fluids asIn some implementations, selecting aMedium
Expandablebetter ones are developed.fluid that resists staining and lowers
permeability allows future fluids to
be compatible with the original
absorber with perhaps higher
performance since past residues will
be minimized.

In some embodiments, the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid can be automotive automatic transmission fluid or propylene glycol, and the pigments or dyes can be conventional printing inks known in the art, carbon black, or other high absorbtivity substance, in powder form.

In some implementations, one or more of the surfaces of the base 102 defining the insulation chamber 114 shown in FIGS. 16 and 17 can be coated with a low permeability coating. Further, in some implementations, the insulation chamber 114 is in gas vapor flow communication with a low permeability bladder bag 103 external to the structure or an expansion tank known in the art. By coating the base 102 with a low permeability coating and using a low permeability bladder bag 103 or expansion tank to supply and maintain gas in the insulation chamber 114, the rate at which gas permeates through the base 102 may be sufficiently reduced to economically contain a noble or inert gas, such as Argon or Nitrogen, within the insulation chamber.

In some embodiments, the solar energy collection system 10 can be operated to reduce the overall temperature of the system in the event the temperature of the absorber exceeds a predetermined threshold. As the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid circulates through the system, the thermal storage mass 152 will increase in temperature if the current energy taken out of the system, either directly or through a thermal heat exchange element or heat exchanger (not shown) in energy transfer communication with the thermal storage mass 152, is less than the current sun input that is converted into heat.

More specifically, the temperature of the fluid exiting the thermal storage mass 152 and entering the absorber 20 is approximately the same as the temperature of the thermal storage mass. The temperature of the fluid flowing through the absorber 20 increases to a new temperature greater than the temperature of the thermal storage mass 152 as it absorbs energy from the sun. The fluid exits the absorber at the new higher temperature and comes into heat exchange contact with the thermal storage mass, which causes the temperature of the thermal storage mass to increase. If energy is not transferred from the system, the fluid exits the thermal storage mass at a temperature greater than when it exited the thermal mass in the previous cycle. In other words, the temperatures of the components around the solar energy collection system loop can increase in tandem. Without some mechanism to reduce the sun input converted to heat or increase the current energy consumption, the temperature of one or more of the components around the loop may become dangerously high and cause long-term damage to some or all of the components including but not limited to any plastic, foam or fluid materials.

Based on the properties of the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid, plastic components and insulator components of the solar energy apparatus described herein, a predetermined maximum operating temperatures of the thermal storage mass Ttmmax and the collection portion Tcmax may be selected where Tcmax is slightly above Ttmm. For example, in one specific implementation, the thermal mass can be water, Ttmmax can be set to 180° F. (sufficiently below the boiling point of water), and Tcmax can be set to 195° F., which is somewhat below the boiling point of water or a composite liquid. The collector will continuously pump fluid through the absorber and transfer thermal energy to the thermal mass until the overall temperature Tc of the collection portion reaches Tcmax, at which time the pump will shut off and a fluid valve 113 located in the bottom header 60 and an air valve 115 located in the top header 62 will open. The fluid is then allowed to drain out of the absorber 20 and into the fluid reservoir 154 via the fluid valve 113 and the line 162. As the fluid drains, air entering through the air valve 115 replaces the fluid. With no fluid being located within the absorber 20, the collector is placed in the non-operative state and solar energy penetrating the absorber will be reflected by the reflective layer 44 shown in FIG. 1. Since solar energy is being reflected, rather than absorbed, the overall temperature Tc of the collection portion will not exceed Tcmax and can be maintained below a safe operating limit.

In some embodiments, a control system, such as system 167, is included. The system 167 may include a microcomputer that monitors temperature at one or more locations within the solar energy collection system 10 and opens the valve described above when the temperature at the one or more locations reaches a predetermined limit.

In some embodiments, the solar energy collection system can include an additional safety mechanism to prevent overheating of the collection system in the event the control system fails. The additional safety mechanism includes a snap switch, as commonly known in the art, which forces the fluid to drain from the absorber if the control system fails to open the valve. For example, in some implementations, the microcomputer of the control system can be programmed to open the valve at a Tcmax limit of 160° F. and the backup snap switch could have a temperature threshold of 160° F. If the microcomputer or its interfacing components fail, the snap switch will shut off at 160° F., thus draining the fluid from the absorber. The use of a snap switch, or other similar device, provides a simple and reliable safety backup to the control system.

After the fluid has drained from the absorber 20, the temperature of the collection system will decrease. Once the temperature of the solar energy collection system dips below a predetermined minimum temperature, the control system can close the fluid valve 113 and pump 150 can again circulate solar absorptive heat transfer fluid through the absorber 20, which causes the air within the absorber exit the absorber through the air valve 115. Once the absorber 20 is full, the air valve 115 can close.

In view of the many possible embodiments to which the principles of the disclosed solar energy apparatus may be applied, it should be recognized that the illustrated embodiments are only examples and should not be taken as limiting the scope of the disclosure.

It can thus be seen that at least certain of solar energy absorption apparatus embodiments set forth above can provide the following advantages among others:

  • 1. Reduction in the cost of manufacturing due to, among other things, the ability to make the apparatus with inexpensive materials that, in some instances, can be extruded. For example, traditional solar panels use an absorber made of metal and a top surface made of a different material that allows light to pass through. Accordingly, the absorber and top surface of traditional solar panels cannot be extruded as one piece. In contrast, the use of solar absorptive heat transfer fluid in the solar energy apparatus described herein allows for the top layer and the absorber to be made of the same material. Therefore, in some implementations, the top surface and the absorber can formed as a single extruded part, which lowers manufacturing cost.
  • 2. Reduction in the size, thickness, and weight due to, among other things, a reduced volume and depth of absorptive fluid flowing through the collection portion of the apparatus. For example, the amount of solar absorptive heat transfer fluid to heat a typical home may go from 100 gallons to 20 gallons, saving up to $20 per month in operating costs over the life of the system.
  • 3. Reduced apparatus cost for each Joule (BTU) collected due to, among other things, the reduced volume of absorptive fluid, the unique composition of the absorptive fluid and plastic components.
  • 4. Prolonged operating life due to, among other things, a construction made of plastic with particular optical and UV characteristics and the use of reflective materials, layers, or coatings for protecting underlying structures.
  • 5. Enhanced temperature control to prevent overheating and prolong the life of the absorptive fluid and structural components of the apparatus. For example, as one instance of overheating can cause deleterious long-term effects on the components of an apparatus, effectively eliminating such overheating by reflecting light back to the sky promotes system reliability in a natural and reliable way.
  • 6. Potential for increased efficiency. The efficiency of the collector is a direct function of the absorptivity of the solar absorptive heat transfer fluid to visible and UV light. As such, as better fluids become a reality, the efficiency of existing systems can be increased by simply changing the fluid.
  • 7. Reduction in the cost of system and operation. By using less solar absorptive heat transfer fluid, the cost of the system is reduced. Additionally, the size, and thereby the cost, of the drain back storage tank can be reduced, which results in less insulation required to insulate the storage tank and a lower overall system insulation cost.
  • 8. Uniform heat transfer to absorptive fluid. Since heat transport is ubiquitous over the entire surface of the absorber, uniform heat transfer is achieved at no additional cost. This ubiquity of heat transfer completely obviates the economic trade-off between conventional absorber thickness and riser pipe spacing.
  • 9. Quicker and easier installation compared to conventional solar energy collectors.
  • 10. Increased efficiency due to, among other things, the ability to construct vacuum insulation inexpensively to eliminate convective and conductive heat losses from the absorber to the ambient air. In some implementations, the vacuum insulation exists in panel form, while in others the insulation exists within a cylinder.
  • 11. Reduced overheating, thereby allowing for use of inexpensive materials and eliminating damage to circulation fluid.
  • 12. Increased efficiency due to shapes and configurations that capture nearly 100% of the incident solar energy at any incident sun angle.
  • 13. Increased efficiency due to utilization of infrared radiation retention coatings.
  • 14. Increased safety due to control of the maximum operating temperature of the device, thereby reducing effects of scalding and eliminating steam.
  • 15. Increased design flexibility, as structural dimensions, structural materials, fluid composition, maximum operating temperature, stagnation temperature, environmental effects and insulation properties remain controllable and predictable while using common, low cost, materials and processes.
  • 16. Elimination of heat pipes and pipes that heat to a condenser which has a glass-metal interface connecting to the top header. When the header flow stops (stagnates), the glass-metal interface goes up in temperature and can damage the evacuated tube since the tiniest crack will let air in and ruin the vacuum. Coaxial solar absorptive heat transfer fluid collectors eliminate this problem by having no dissimilar materials that get hot and heat collection goes away during stagnation because the black fluid drains out of the tubes.
  • 17. Increase in collection of more diffuse solar energy, possibly up to 2 times more.
  • 18. Lower maintenance costs since components are limited to temperatures that do not cause them long-term damage and cannot cause heat transport fluid to become an agent of chemical attack upon components that come in contact with the fluid.





 
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