Patent filing claims solar energy ‘breakthrough’

Ronald Ace has filed patents for a flat panel Solar Trap which he claims absorbs 100% of incoming energy, even at extreme temperatures. Everything is on paper. He presents no prototype, no peer review, and he's looking for investors.

In a U.S. patent application, a little-known Maryland inventor claims a stunning solar energy breakthrough that promises to end the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels at a fraction of the current cost – a transformation that also could blunt global warming.

“This is a fundamental scientific and environmental discovery,” Ace said. “This invention can meet about 92 percent of the world’s energy needs.”

His claimed discoveries, which exist only on paper so far, would represent such a leap forward that they are sure to draw deep skepticism from solar energy experts. But a recently retired congressional energy adviser, who has reviewed the invention’s still-secret design, said it’s “a no brainer” that the device would vastly outperform all other known solar technology.

Ace said ... that his own crude prototypes already have demonstrated that the basic physics for the invention work.

... the previously undisclosed invention has yet to be constructed and fully tested.

In recent interviews and redacted excerpts from his patent application, he said that his invention can be used to retrofit conventional nuclear- or fossil fuel-fired power plants to produce electricity at about 2 cents per kilowatt-hour. That alone would be a staggering advance, slashing the average wholesale cost of power by two-thirds and the cost of solar energy by up to ninefold – estimates that Ace called conservative.

Until Ace shares his secrets, produces a working prototype, licenses a major project or wins the blessing of a peer review panel, he may get little credence.

Ace said that confidentiality agreements are being signed so that solar experts at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., can review his invention.

In his patent application, Ace wrote that his invention amounts to “a high-temperature blackbody absorber” that is “similar in some ways to an astronomical black hole.”

The key, he said, is his trap’s ability to absorb nearly 100 percent of the sunshine that hits it, while allowing only a tiny percentage of energy to escape, even at ultra-high temperatures.

Ace said that, because his solar traps can collect energy at ultra-high temperatures, the storage issue all but disappears. The energy can be stored for weeks in silicon dioxide (pure sand) or other cheap materials and extracted via heat exchangers as needed, he said, meaning that reliable solar power plants could be built almost anywhere, though it would be more expensive in cloudy regions. [emphasis mine]

These claims are so grandiose, it sounds like sci-fi to me. I'll start to believe it when Sandia says it's plausible.

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Replies to This Discussion

There's a basic efficiency limit on electricity generation from solar energy, from the second law of thermodynamics.  I hope this inventor isn't so incompetent as to ignore that. 

Maybe it would be game-changing and all that if 100% of solar energy could be collected, even in a high-entropy form.  But the media is eternally trumpeting fundamental advances in solar energy, plastics recycling, etc. etc..  People love to hear this kind of thing, but it doesn't mean much until it's shown to actually work and be practical. 

I agree with you and Loren. But I won't dismiss this out of hand. Nanotech and other advances break what were imagined to be physical limits, based on bulk materials, quite often. Perhaps he's figured out some nano contour which traps incident radiation and prohibits rapid black body radiation at the same time. I look forward to Sandia's evaluation.

Nanotech and other advances break what were imagined to be physical limits, based on bulk materials, quite often.

They don't break the second law of thermodynamics!  That is EXTREMELY fundamental. 

It's possible it would be a game-changer and all that, even without breaking the Second Law. 

However, the physicist Davic MacKay states in Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air that some current solar panels are already close to the theoretical maximum efficiency that result from the Second Law of thermodynamics.  Any claims of potentially "game-changing" technology are questionable in that light.

The press is itself subject to market forces.  They have to tell people stuff that will grab their attention.  There are entire magazines like New Scientist that are full of razzy stories about revolutionary theories and technological advances, where they aren't too picky about the quality.  Maybe this McClatchy site isn't being picky either. 

All sorts of stuff work GREAT "on paper."  Let's see a prototype built and tested and fully evaluated.  THEN we'll see how much of a "game changer" this new widget is.

If it sounds too good to be true....

This will be interesting to watch. Who ever thought we would be using computers in our homes? There is a "looney" fellow in Sandpoint, ID, who develops the craziest ideas, and they work! We need more scientists and engineers with imagination and guts.




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