Researcher with solar heat generator

Powered by the sun

Engineering professor aspires to bring renewable energy to industry

October 1, 2018

Rafael Sanchez Vega, PhD, PEResearch: Powering the Possible, associate professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, is proud of his latest apparatus: a simple Fresnel solar heat generator, which is transportable and produces clean water. The idea arose several years ago from Sanchez Vega’s love for manufacturing and design.

“I thought to myself, ‘I can do this, so why shouldn’t I?’” he said.

Let’s do it

Thus, the Fresnel solar heat generator was created. Over a few years, with the help of several mechanical engineering master’s students, the project has been refined and reworked. The final prototype is mostly manual, is simple to use and can be economically converted into a portable size.

The mechanism depends mostly on mechanical power. It does not need to be plugged into the electric grid and, therefore, it can be used just about anywhere. It’s made up of a track, a timer, a container of water and a Fresnel spot lens. The track serves as a base, while the timer adjusts the position of the lens to optimize solar intake.

The Fresnel is a type of optical lens originally developed by a French physicist for lighthouses. It differs from a traditional magnifying lens in that it is flat and has grooves on its surface. The spot lens works by concentrating the energy of the sun onto a specific point – in this case, the container of water. This heat boils the water, which can be used for drinking or cooking.

Service and industry

Sanchez Vega has hopes that his mechanism will serve personal needs for clean water and other potential uses in the future. Though this is the first prototype, Sanchez Vega envisions the heat generator will be used in several more research projects in the future.

“With some added sophistications, this simple approach to heat generation could even be used to melt metals,” he said.