IBM’s Water-Cooled Solar Energy Microchips Also Desalinate H20

desalination, parabolic solar dish, microchips, IBM, clean tech, solar energyIBM has unveiled a water-cooled microchip that produces solar energy at greater efficiencies than most cells and the waste water can be used to power desalination facilities. Wait, what? Let’s un-strip this sentence. A water-cooled microchip?

IBM invented water-embedded microprocessors quite some time ago and have successfully put them to work in their Zurich-based SuperMUC computer; now they are applying the same technology to Concentrated Photovoltaic (CPV) arrays which normally lose efficiency when they get too hot. Although the technology is still being perfected, they invited what Gizmodo called “begoggled journalists” to check it out. 

When water travels through the microchips, it carries away heat. In Zurich, this heat is used to keep buildings warm. IBM has applied the same concept to CPV cells.

An array of these cells are placed on a 1.5 meter dish onto which sunlight is concentrated at 150 times its normal intensity. Water flushed through the array cools down the cells, optimizing their efficiency performance.

Currently, the prototype has an 18% efficiency rate. IBM says that is decent efficiency for a prototype, although according to a Wikipedia entry, “the most efficient solar cell so far is a multi-junction concentrator solar cell with an efficiency of 43.5% produced by Solar Junction in April 2011.”

Still, IBM isn’t stopping there.

Eventually they hope to be able to concentrate sunlight at 5,000 times and reach efficiencies of 40%. That would truly revolutionize the photovoltaics industry, yet even that isn’t enough for IBM.

Instead of wasting the water that is used to cool down the electronics, they firm hopes to use it in desalination applications.

Solar-powered desalination plants are finally beginning to replace the standard, energy-intensive reverse osmosis technology, but now IBM is introducing a whole new concept that would be especially good in regions like ours that have an excess of sunlight but a perilous shortage of water.

Head over to Gizmodo for their wonderful writeup of IBM’s demonstration in Zurich, which they attended “ultra-dark goggles” and all.

Image credit: Parabolic solar dish, Shutterstock

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