ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Sandia National Laboratories began studying the power of the sun for large-scale energy production in the 1960s. Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Testing Facility was commissioned in 1978, spurred by the 1973 oil crisis.
Many documents detailing the design, construction, and research of the world’s first multi-megawatt concentrated solar tower have spent decades in boxes or on shelves in basements and back rooms. Until now.
Solar researchers and librarians at Sandia have spent the last few years collecting, digitizing and cataloging a multitude of reports, memos, plans, photos and more on the concentration of solar energy, a type of renewable energy produced by using large mirrors to reflect and focus sunlight onto a receiver on a tower to generate electricity. These historical research papers are now in a publicly accessible digital archive for other concentrating solar researchers, historians, businesses and citizens to view.
“We believe that being able to share this information will make the technology in general more accessible and the road to commercialization faster,” said Ken Armijo, Concentrating Solar Energy Researcher at Sandia and Project Manager. “A lot of ‘what if’ questions can be answered if you look at what was documented at the time. By making this information available, we save US taxpayers money because new researchers and companies won’t need to reinvent the wheel.
In addition to tens of thousands of Sandia reports, hand-drawn diagrams, videos and massive floppy disks, the team has worked with collaborators in Australia, South Africa, Germany, the US Department of Energy. and others to include their one-of-a -types of concentrating solar power papers from the same period, Armijo said. The team hopes to expand the archives to also include historical documents on solar energy focused on partners in other countries.
“On the shoulders of the giants”
Successful research projects are widely shared within the research community in the form of peer-reviewed articles, presentations and reports so that other researchers can learn from the results. However, the results of unsuccessful projects are often shared discreetly from person to person, Armijo said. This knowledge can be lost when a researcher retires and can lead new researchers to repeat the mistakes of the past out of ignorance.
“Going through these paper documents, we discovered that there were 20,000 to 50,000 documents that had never been scanned, and if one day there was a big flood or a fire, all this information would disappear,” he said. said Armijo. noted. “Over the years, Sandia has been involved in a lot of important, impactful, and even fundamental research into the concentration of solar energy. The idea was to digitize and organize all this invaluable material into an archive accessible to all so that researchers could learn what had been done – what were the successes and failures of early research so that we did not risk make the same mistakes again. “
Some of these flagship projects include Solar One, a project led by Sandia in 1981 with Rocketdyne, now Aerojet Rocketdyne, to provide 10 megawatts of electricity to Barstow, California. The solar power concentrating tower operated from 1982 to 1986. In 1995, Sandia and Rocketdyne upgraded the tower to Solar Two, using a new high temperature molten salt receiver capable of storing heat to convert it into electricity. after sunset. Solar Two operated from 1996 to 1999. Earlier this year, Sandia received a $ 25 million DOE award to build a third-generation particle concentrating solar power plant with even more storage capacity. Archival documents could inform this third generation plant.
In addition to these important renewable energy research projects, Sandia’s solar tower has been used in NASA research, defense testing, and helped commercialize solar energy.
From “Down Under” to the World Wide Web
Of course, Sandia isn’t the only research institution that has been studying the concentration of solar energy for decades. In fact, the Australian National University’s Concentrated Solar Power Project in White Cliffs, Australia predates Solar One.
Starting in the 1970s, ANU researchers focused on solar dish technology to focus sunlight, said Joe Coventry, a concentrating solar energy engineer at ANU and the Australian Solar Thermal. Research Institute.
White Cliffs is a small, isolated town about 12 hours northeast of Sydney that was completely off the grid when the concentrating solar power project began, Coventry added. The White Cliffs Concentrated Solar Power Plant operated autonomously from 1983 to 1994, when the city was connected to the national grid. After the White Cliffs Project, ANU researchers focused on prototypes of much larger solar dishes and ammonia-based energy storage systems for several decades. Many of ANU’s early projects were collaborations with Sandia.
Coventry will send around half a dozen boxes of physical documents from these early projects to Armijo and his team to digitize and add to the archives.
“We have a beautifully hand-drawn set of diagrams of some of the earliest satellite dish designs and designs of the world’s first demonstration solar station at White Cliffs,” Coventry said. “For some of these pioneering designs, there is only one copy of the design in the world. Having the ability for these to be digitized and available for people to view online is quite exceptional. “
He also included strategy and vision papers – the most interesting findings, in his opinion – project proposals and other reports across the ocean to be digitized.
“The world is moving towards decarbonization, and the concentration of solar energy has a very important role in providing low-cost energy storage and decarbonizing energy-intensive industrial processes,” said Coventry. “Seeing how it all started is really very interesting, and Australia has played its part, but it’s really difficult to follow the history of innovation if the documents are not available online. “
In addition to accessing from the primary digital archives, digitized concentrating solar energy documents are also accessible through the DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information Library and Sandia’s SAND Reports Library, a said Armijo.
Between the stacks of the library
All of this would not have been possible without the work of a team of technical librarians.
Shannon O’Grady, one of these technical librarians, built the user interface and database for the Concentrating Solar Energy Archives. Annette Chavez, another member of the library team, uploaded all of the scanned documents to Sandia’s servers.
Technical Librarian Alice Parsons has worked on external documents from DOE and international partners to ensure document metadata is compatible with Sandia’s library archives and catalog. Sandra Pacheco, the library’s authority on Sandia reports, did the same with the Sandia document metadata and made sure it was accessible through the DOE library.
“Making these mostly forgotten documents accessible to colleagues and collaborators around the world is really exciting,” said Parsons. “There are so many nuggets of information in these old documents that could prove invaluable to current researchers. Hopefully, the archives will encourage collaboration and reduce the likelihood of research being inadvertently repeated. “
One of those gold nuggets, in Armijo’s opinion, was the 1981 molten sodium research papers.
“My research is on molten sodium and heat transfer liquids, so it was very exciting to find solar research on sodium concentration done in the year I was born,” Armijo said. “And I’m designing the same sort of thing right now. It was like looking into someone’s mind 40 years ago. I was able to read these documents and immediately use the information they learned at the time to advance my research.
These documents can bring great value to the research and marketing communities. Parsons said she would be delighted if the records helped the concentration of solar power become a commercial success faster than it otherwise would have been.
Next, Armijo will work to digitize one-of-a-kind video reels of concentrating solar energy research. Armijo also hopes to expand the archives to include unique historical documents for other areas of renewable energy research.
“I think there is no quick fix in renewable energy,” Armijo said. “The concentration of solar energy is only one technology among many, such as wind power, photovoltaics, geothermal energy, hydroelectricity. I hope that as this archive takes off, we can add more and more information, not just reports but videos, technical drawings and more.
This archival project is funded by the Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office and was initiated by Chuck Andraka, a retired engineer from Sandia.
Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-mission laboratory operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the National Nuclear Security Administration of the United States Department of Energy. Sandia Labs has major research and development responsibilities in nuclear deterrence, global security, defense, energy technology, and economic competitiveness, with primary facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Livermore, California.