SkyFuel, Inc. is a solar thermal power technology and service provider founded in 2007. SkyFuel solar collectors harness solar radiation to produce steam for electricity generation and industrial applications. The Company is a leading supplier of utility-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) systems. SkyFuel currently offers an advanced, glass-free parabolic trough solar thermal collector, called the SkyTrough®. It is the highest performance, lowest-cost utility-scale solar power system in the world.
Parabolic Solar Trough Technology
Rick LeBlanc | SkyFuel
Please give us a short overview of your Parabolic Trough Design and what makes it stand out?
The SkyTrough® is designed to address the primary market barrier to investment in utility scale solar power — high upfront capital cost. The SkyTrough® reduces the installed solar collector cost by about 25-30% and thereby improves the financial return for investors. Savings compared to competitor parabolic trough technologies stem from two main innovations: (1) reflectors made of weather-proof, low-cost, high-reflectance polymeric film, instead of traditional fragile, heavy glass-based mirrors, and (2) much larger monolithic mirror panels that are easy and quick to install, and require no optical adjustment.
What is your business strategy?
SkyFuel is the only company in the CSP industry that is purely technology focused. Our aim is to provide the highest quality, lowest cost parabolic trough and, as evidenced by the SkyTrough’s R&D 100 award, we have achieved this goal. The SkyTrough® is available for use in CSP projects worldwide, and is positioned to bring down the cost of solar-sourced electricity and thereby increase the use of clean, renewable concentrating solar power.
How have you optimized your technology for utility scale?
SkyTrough® solar collectors are assembled at the project site from components designed to be densely packed for ease of shipping. Suppliers have been selected for their proven capability to produce in large volumes for other industries, enabling SkyFuel to ramp up rapidly to supply very large scale solar fields. It is much easier to ramp up production of the mirror panels, made by laminating ReflecTech® Mirror Film roll to roll on mill grade aluminum sheets, than traditional sagged glass reflector facets. They are also unbreakable and half the weight of glass mirrors, making shipping easier and less costly. The assembly process is designed for unskilled labor with minimal tools. No welding is needed on the frame and no adjustment of the mirrors is required to achieve high optical efficiency equal to that of glass-based parabolic troughs. The mirror panels are installed by sliding them into an optically precise guidance track that forms part of the structural frame of the trough.
Is your technology ready for commercial scale projects?
Yes. We are currently equipping our manufacturing facility with high volume production lines for making the specialized components of the SkyTrough®. These lines will be operational in the first quarter of 2011.
What is your intellectual property position?
Our technology is highly innovative and based on several patented components – ReflecTech® Mirror Film, the mirror support/optical alignment track, and the OnSun™ drive and sun tracking control. The use of ReflecTech® Mirror Film is the innovative catalyst of the SkyTrough® design, and the cascade of related advancements in parabolic trough design are impossible without it.
What are the advantages of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) systems?
CSP systems produce electricity from solar energy and so, like photovoltaic systems, they are a source of clean, low-carbon energy. CSP systems have the additional advantage that the energy they collect is thermal and thus easy to store for later use when energy demand is high or the sun is not shining. Even without a dedicated storage system, the intrinsic thermal capacity in the working heat transfer fluid smoothes the output of the plant, making it easier to incorporate into the electric grid than other intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and photovoltaics.
What are the safety concerns of using CSP and how does your product design address these concerns?
CSP is an inherently safe technology. The safety concerns that do exist are related to plant operation and are mitigated by proper training and adherence to protective guidelines such as wearing safety glasses and steel-toed boots while working in the solar field.
Some people wonder about the durability of your non-glass mirrors – how do you answer that?
Our mirrors are made by laminating ReflecTech® Mirror Film to aluminum sheets. We have worked with the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) to rigorously test the film under a variety of representative conditions. Some of the tests subject the laminated mirrors to high doses of UV radiation and moisture to simulate weathering over time. Some older troughs at SEGS VI in Kramer Junction, California were retrofitted with ReflecTech® mirror panels in 2002 and the reflectance of these has been measured each year since. In all the tests, the mirror film has held up extremely well, showing no appreciable loss of reflectance or mechanical degradation. The most recent data from ongoing accelerated weathering tests show that the film will hold up at least 15 years. A paper on this topic was presented at SOLAR 2009 in May and is available for download on the ReflecTech website (www.reflectechsolar.com/Product_Information.html).
Are there any SkyTrough projects in the works, underway or completed?
An operational loop of SkyTroughs was installed in December, 2009 to augment the supply of steam to Solar Energy Generating Station (SEGS) II in Daggett, California. The installation was used to validate performance predictions and the data has been independently evaluated.
The SkyTrough® is being evaluated as the operational technology for ten utility scale projects globally and we expect to announce success in one or more of these bids in the next several months.
Mr. LeBlanc joined SkyFuel as Chief Executive Officer in June, 2010 to lead the scale up of high volume SkyTrough® manufacturing to meet industry demand for high quality, low cost parabolic trough concentrating solar collectors. In parallel with developing the manufacturing division, Rick is taking the company to a new level in corporate communications and building a commercial division to expedite uptake of the SkyTrough in the global CSP marketplace.
To join SkyFuel, Mr. LeBlanc stepped down as CEO of Chemrec AB, a biomass-waste to biofuels renewable energy technology firm based in Stockholm, Sweden. Prior to Chemrec, Mr. LeBlanc was a division president at Siemens Building Technologies where he oversaw building automation and energy services for the global engineering conglomerate. Mr. LeBlanc’s extensive experience leading companies in the automated systems, controls, and communications industries includes founding Shared Communications in 1985 to build proprietary telecommunications management and monitoring systems.
Rick has an MBA from Northwestern University and B.A.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Toronto. He is a Professional Engineer and holds a LEED AP certification from the US Green Building Council.
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