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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Solar energy demo draws crowd

    Just as a magnifying glass can harness the sun to burn a hole through a piece of paper, UA scientists have discovered a way to burn through something a little thicker: steel.

    U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and members of the university, including UA President Robert Shelton, gathered Wednesday on the south side of Bear Down Gymnasium to witness what could represent a major step in the production of low-cost alternative energy production.

    The demonstration was held in an empty swimming pool that housed a satellite dish fitted with a 10-foot diameter mirror. The mirror was used to concentrate the sunlight on a specific area, in this case a quarter-inch piece of steel.

    It takes about 10 seconds to make the initial hole in the piece of steel and another five seconds to widen the hole to its final half-inch diameter.

    “”The whole trick with solar energy is that it arrives free,”” said Roger Angel, the Mirror Lab director and UA professor of optical sciences and astronomy.

    Current forms of alternative energy aren’t cost effective and are unable to compete with fossil fuels, Angel said. “”You have to have something commercially viable.””

    Using the glass to concentrate the sunlight is what makes the process more cost effective than its counterparts. Glass is made in large quantities at low prices, and is mostly used for architectural purposes, Angel said.

    “”When it’s put into the field, because of the focus, (the mirror) intensifies the solar energy so the photovoltaic efficiency goes up by 500 percent,”” said Ron Barber, Giffords’ district director.

    William Harris, president and CEO of the Science Foundation Arizona, said the foundation started the solar-energy converter system, by providing the initial funding it took to get the process up and running.

    “”Their funding is enabling,”” said Yong-Hang Zhang, director of the Center for Nanophotonics at ASU. “”(The foundation) took a risk, but I think now we’ll see a return.””

    The foundation brought together the most appropriate professors from both the UA and ASU in an effort to bring complementary skills together, Harris said.

    “”It’s a complement in nature,”” he said. “”The two intellectual resources (UA and ASU) in the state that can change the face of energy.””

    UA President Robert Shelton, who spoke with Giffords while touring the project, commented on the university’s leading work in alternative energies.

    “”(The UA) has been on the forefront of promoting competitive technology that will lead to practical solar energy,”” Shelton said. He said it was important that Giffords attended the demonstration because it shows she “”recognizes that Arizona can out-compete everyone else.””

    Giffords agreed and said, “”Today we’re melting steel, but in a couple months we’ll be producing energy.””

    But in the end, the main purpose of the solar energy is to help the world, optical science and engineering sophomore Kyle Stephens said. Stephens, a NASA space grant intern who works with Angel, said Angel always asks him about his readiness to help.

    “”He’ll ask me, ‘Are you ready to save the world?'”” Stephens said. “”I say yes, of course.””

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