Why IBM Research And Airlight Energy's High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal System Is Perfect For Ghana

Sat, 20 Feb 2016 Source: Thompson, Kofi

By Kofi Thompson

"I have always been driven to solve every problem I face."

- Martin Winterkorn.

It is such a pity that as a nation we seldom pay much attention to

what our research institutions do - and hardly ever provide them with

the needed resources to enable them carry out cutting-edge research,

which could be commercialised by private sector businesses: and

contribute to Ghana's GDP.

Years ago, when it was first announced that U.S.$20 million had been

set aside to celebrate the golden jubilee 50th Independence Day

anniversary, I wrote an article suggesting that it would benefit the

nation more, if the government of President Kufuor gave all the money

set aside for the celebrations, to the Council for Scientific and

Industrial Research (CSIR), to fund research work carried out by its

various research institutes.

What a difference to our nation's long-term prospects that would have

made, if the then government had heeded that humble advice.

It is a pity that Ghanaian politicians are such a hard-of-hearing lot

- and that most of them act only if it will benefit them personally.

If only the billions of cedis that was fritted away - on frivolous

undertakings, such as ordering dozens of luxury vehicles, and

enriching a powerful and well-connected few, through public-purse

pre-financing of the construction of luxury homes for sale by private

developers - had been ploughed into research, as some of us suggested,

what a difference that would have made to the fortunes of our country,


And if today we are still unable to resource Ghana's research

institutions properly because we are cash-strapped, should we not do

some creative thinking instead - and obtain the problem-solving

outcomes we seek, by getting our research institutions to collaborate

with some of the leading research institutions in the world?

For example, as a result of global climate change, compounded by the

destructive activities of illegal loggers, illegal gold miners and

illegal sand-winners, our major river systems are drying up.

That should drive the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), to seek a

new business model underpinned by energy independence, and which is

less dependent on river systems to fill its treatment plants'


Such a business model, should also be devoid of the expense involved

in purchasing vast quantities of chemicals that the GWCL currently

uses to purify water sourced from increasingly polluted rivers - that

frequently dry up because of prolonged dry spells during harmattan

seasons: resulting from the extremes in weather brought about by

global climate change.

That new GWCL business model should be one that focuses on developing

its capacity for implementing small and large-scale solar

desalination projects.

At a time when global climate change is impacting Ghana so negatively,

relying solely on its traditional production methods, will not enable

the GWCL to supply water in sufficient quantities and fulfil its


As we speak, the latest town in Ghana to experience an acute shortage

of treated water, resulting from the drying up of a GWCL treatment

plant's reservoir, is Nsawam.

The major river passing through that town - which is famed for its

bread-making industry's prowess - the Densu River, has shrunk to such

an extent that water from it cannot replenish the reservoir of the

GWCL's brand new treatment plant at Nsawam - a facility built with

tens of millions of dollars of borrowed money.

Global climate change has also led to a decrease in stored water

volumes in Ghana's hydro-power dams - lowering water levels to such

an extent that all the nation's hydro-power plants operate far below

capacity during dry seasons.

Again, some of us predicted that scenario years ago - and suggested in

countless articles that instead of building a hydro-power plant that

would never function at full capacity because of low dam water levels,

the Kufuor administration should rather use the money to build a

thermal power plant instead. It was ignored, sadly. Pity.

Above all, there is also a desperate need to increase the share of

renewable energy in our nation's power-generation mix.

We could solve many of the problems enumerated above, creatively, by

simply getting the relevant research institutes of the CSIR, as well

as the Volta River Authority (VRA), the GWCL and the Kwame Nkrumah

University of Science and Technology (KNUST), to collaborate with IBM

Research and Airlight Energy's Dsolar, both of which would welcome

such collaboration, I am sure.

After all, Ghana would become the proving ground for the Sunflower

High Concentration PhotoVoltiac Thermal (HCPVT) system, would it not?

Such collaboration will enable Ghana to adopt the Sunflower HCPVT

system, to power the sustainable development of marginalised

communities across the country.

It is the perfect solution to the vexing problem of dumsor power

outages - for it will give off-grid energy independence to countless

rural communities, hospitals, educational institutions, hotels, sundry

businesses, etc., etc. - all of which could also get free

air-conditioning from what is a renewable energy source.

For the benefit of readers, I have culled an article from the IBM

Research website, about the IBM Research and Airlight Energy

Sunflower High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal system, that in my

humble view, our nation would be prudent to adopt - to provide

off-grid renewable power for the sustainable development of rural


Speaking personally, if all my family's farms had one Sunflower HCPVT

system each, for example, I know the difference that having water for

drip-irrigation year round would make to their production levels - as

post-harvest losses would be completely eliminated if we built

mini-warehouses, to store harvested produce: into which cooled air

could be channelled. Brilliant.

Finally, the Sunflower HCPVT system could also provide solar-powered

air-conditioning for countless buildings in towns and cities across

Ghana too. Perfect.

This is just the sort of innovative, high-impact project that Ghana's

first President, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, favoured. He would

doubtless have approached IBM Research and Airlight Energy, were he

to be in power today, and asked them to replicate it in Ghana, in

collaboration with the CSIR's relevant research institutes.

One therefore hopes that the presidential candidate of today's

Convention People's Party (CPP), Ivor Greenstreet, will promise to do

so too, should he become President in January 2017 - as he campaigns

for this November's presidential election across the nation.

Please read on:

"Airlight Energy brings solar electricity and heat to remote locations

System concentrates the sun's radiation 2,000 times using water-cooled

photovoltaic chips

Top story

English | Italian | German | Japanese

Biasca, 24 September 2014—Airlight Energy, a Swiss-based supplier of

solar power technology has partnered with IBM Research to bring

affordable solar technology to the market by 2017. The system can

concentrate the sun’s radiation 2,000 times and convert 80 percent of

it into useful energy to generate 12 kilowatts of electrical power and

20 kilowatts of heat on a sunny day—enough to power several average


High-tech sunflowerThe High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal (HCPVT)

system, which resembles a 10-meter-high sunflower a 40-square-meter

parabolic dish made of patented fiber-based concrete, which can be

molded into nearly any shape in less than four hours and has

mechanical characteristics similar to those of aluminum at one-fifth

the cost.

The inside of the parabolic dish is covered with 36 elliptic mirrors

made of 0.2-millimeter-thin recyclable plastic foil with a silver

coating, slightly thicker than the wrapper chocolate bars are packaged

in, which are then curved using a slight vacuum. The mirrored surface

area concentrates the sun’s radiation by reflecting it onto several

microchannel liquid-cooled receivers, each of which is populated with

a dense array of multi-junction photovoltaic chips—each 1×1-cm2 chip

produces an electrical power of up to 57 watts on a typical sunny day.

The mirrors and the receiver are encased with a large inflated

transparent plastic enclosure to protect them from rain or dust. The

enclosure also prevents birds and other animals from getting in harm's


The photovoltaic chips, similar to those used on orbiting satellites,

are mounted on micro-structured layers that pipe treated water within

fractions of millimeters of the chip to absorb the heat and draw it

away 10 times more effectively than with passive air cooling. The

85-90 Celsius (°C) (183-194 Fahrenheit (°F)) hot water maintains the

chips at safe operating temperatures of 105 °C (221 °F), which

otherwise would reach over 1,500 °C (2,732 °F). The entire system sits

on an advanced sun tracking system, which positions the dish at the

best angle throughout the day to capture the sun's rays.

The direct hot-water cooling design with very small pumping power has

already been made commercially available by IBM in its

high-performance computers, including SuperMUC, Europe’s fastest

supercomputer in 2012.

“The direct cooling technology with very small pumping power used to

cool the photovoltaic chips with water is inspired by the hierarchical

branched blood supply system of the human body,” said Dr. Bruno

Michel, manager, advanced thermal packaging at IBM Research.

An initial demonstrator of the multi-chip solar receiver was developed

in a previous collaboration between IBM and the Egypt Nanotechnology

Research Center.

With such a high concentration and based on its radical design,

researchers believe that with high-volume production they can achieve

a cost of two to three times lower than comparable systems.

Airlight Energy has spun off a new company called Dsolar (dish solar)

to market, license and sell the HCPVT system globally. Dsolar has

licensed several patents from IBM in the area of hot-water chip


“With the HCPVT we are ushering in a new generation of solar energy

technology,” said Dr. Gianluca Ambrosetti, Head of Research, Airlight

Energy with responsibilities for building the new spinoff. “Not only

is the system affordable, but it will create jobs where it is

installed because many of the materials will be sourced locally. We

expect to partner with firms around the world to bring a commercial

version to market by 2017.”

Based on its current design, scientists estimate that the operating

lifetime for the HCPVT structure is up to 60 years with proper

maintenance. The protective foil and the plastic elliptic mirrors will

need to be replaced every 10–15 years depending on the environment,

and the photovoltaic cells need replacing every 25 years. Throughout

its lifetime the system will benefit from design and manufacturing

improvements, allowing for an even greater system efficiency.

The HCPVT system can also be customized with further equipment to

provide drinkable water and air conditioning from its hot water

output. For example, salt water can pass through a porous membrane

distillation system, where it is vaporized and desalinated. Such a

system could provide 30–40 liters of drinkable water per square meter

of receiver area per day, while still generating electricity with a

more than 25 percent yield or two kilowatt hours per day—a little less

than half the amount of water the average person needs per day

according to the United Nations, whereas a large multi-dish

installation could provide enough water for a town.

By means of a thermally driven sorption chiller, cool air can also be

produced. A sorption chiller is a device that converts heat into

cooling via a thermal cycle applied to a liquid or solid sorption

material. Adsorption chillers, with solid silica gel adsorbers and

with water as a working fluid, can replace compression chillers, which

place a burden on electrical grids in hot climates and contain working

fluids that are harmful to the ozone layer. Although absorption

(liquid sorption) systems are already available for combination with

the HCPVT system, they provide less cooling output compared to

low-temperature driving heat for the adsorption (solid sorption)

systems under development at IBM. The systems can also be customized

with a transparent back for urban installations.

Initial HCPVT systems will be made available with non-optimized

predecessor distillation and sorption cooling systems. Systems with

optimized desalination and sorption cooling technologies require an

additional two to three years of development with additional partner


Airlight Energy and the IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) will team up

to donate a High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal (HCPVT) system to

two deserving communities. Each winning community will receive a

prototype HCPVT system from Airlight Energy, and be eligible for pro

bono enablement and transformation support from IBM Corporate Service

Corps. Applications from communities will be open in 2015 and the

winners will be announced in December 2015, with installations

beginning in late 2016.

Scientists at Airlight and IBM envision the HCPVT system providing

sustainable energy to locations around the world including southern

Europe, Africa, the Arabian peninsula, the southwestern part of North

America, South America, Japan and Australia. In addition to

residences, additional applications include remote hospitals, medical

facilities, hotels and resorts, shopping centers and locations where

available land is at a premium.

Some of the initial funding for the development of the HCPVT system

was provided to IBM Research, Airlight Energy, ETH Zurich and the

Interstate University of Applied Sciences Buchs NTB in a three-year

grant from the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation.

Join the conversation with scientists on Twitter @IBMResearch,

@AirlightEnergy, #HCPVT, #dsolar and #bmiBruno.


AIRLIGHT ENERGY is a private Swiss company based in Biasca that

supplies proprietary technology for large-scale production of

electricity using solar power and for energy storage. AIRLIGHT ENERGY

has developed an innovative and complete solution for the markets of

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)."

End of culled article from the IBM Research website.


Where Can One Locate Outlets In Ghana For Fresh Organic Agricultural

Produce And Processed Organic Food Products?

By Kofi Thompson

Over the years, there has been growing awareness in Ghana, of the

health benefits of eating fresh organic agricultural produce, and

consuming processed organic food products.

It is a healthy-lifestyle awareness transformation in society that is

to be applauded.

The problem, however, for many would-be buyers of organic agricultural

produce, and consumers of processed organic food products, is to

locate retail outlets where they can be purchased.

Perhaps some of the leading organisations in Ghana, which champion the

production and consumption of wholesome food in Ghana, such as Food

Sovereignty Ghana, can help in that direction - by publicising outlets

in Ghana for the sale of organic agricultural produce that they are

aware of.

In that regard, one looks forward to the day when the planned

Ghana4Agroecology platform finally comes into being.

As this blog's widow's mite contribution to the awareness-creation

effort, the contact details of a few outlets for organic agricultural

produce in Ghana, which they can patronise, is published below, for

the benefit of the consuming public.

For those hotels and restaurants that provide their clients with

fresh-pressed orange juice, and would prefer to use organic oranges

they purchase themselves, BioTropic Farms, has just set up a sales

outlet in the Gallilea market, which is on the left side just off the

Mallam-Kasoa highway, after the Brigade area, as one heads towards

Kasoa from the toll booth.

Individuals, hotels, restaurants and other buyers interested in

purchasing BioTropic Farms' organic oranges, can speak to a BioTropic

Farms representative by telephone on: 0202533013.

And those who are keen to buy any of the following organic products:

organic baobab powder; organic baobab seed oil; organic moringa leaf

powder; organic moringa seeds and organic shea butter, can contact a

representative of Cynbeth, which works with women's groups in the

north, by telephone on: 0209420005.

A weekly pop-up market is held in Cape Coast on Fridays, opposite the

Adisadel College post office, where some organic farmers go to sell

their produce.

It is worth patronising - and could be the perfect excuse for a

fun-filled family weekend trip to Cape Coast, to stock up on fresh

organic fruits and vegetables, and also visit some of the tourist

sites in Elmina and Cape Coast, for adventure-loving and

health-conscious families that live in Accra, Takoradi and Kumasi.

Columnist: Thompson, Kofi