Solar energy

The conversion of solar radiation into usable energy plays an important role in environment-friendly and climate-compatible energy systems. DLR’s research focuses on the further development of components and systems for solar thermal power plants. The work on components for parabolic trough power plants and tower power plants is carried out at DLR’s own test facilities, using new measurement technologies and simulation tools, in close collaboration with partners from research and industry. The specific aim is to reduce the costs of these technologies and to increase their efficiency. New fields of application for solar thermal technologies, such as industrial process heat and solar district heating, are also being developed. Solar-chemical process engineering is becoming increasingly important, particularly for the generation of fuels using solar radiation.

The majority of the work is conducted at the  DLR Institute of Solar Research. Test facilities are located at DLR’s Cologne, Stuttgart and Jülich sites as well as at the largest European test centre for concentrating solar power technologies at the Plataforma Solar de Almería, belonging to Spanish research partner CIEMAT. Within DLR, the Institute of Solar Research cooperates with the Institute of Future Fuels, the Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics and the Institute of Materials Research.

Power plant operation and components

One research focus is on the development of new heat transfer media, which are stable at high temperatures while maintaining good heat transfer and heat storage properties. Molten salts and ceramic particles are of particular interest in the context of these investigations. Based on these, systems can be developed with significantly higher efficiency, lower cost and which can be operated more flexibly. This is connected to the further development of technical components for the parabolic trough systems and tower systems of solar thermal power plants. DLR also supports industry in the development of cost-effective heliostats, which are needed to concentrate solar radiation on the receiver. Heliostats are mirror systems in which the solar radiation is always concentrated on a fixed point or line, regardless of the time of day or year.

Qualification of components

The development of methods for qualifying components and systems is the basis for developing standards. The focus is on the efficiency and service life of solar thermal power plants. Research is being carried out with external partners, particularly on the next generation of parabolic trough solar power plants using direct solar evaporation and molten salts as a heat storage medium. The focus is particularly on the development and qualification of tailored components to be able to increase the temperature in the collector field as well as the development and demonstration of optimised integration concepts, operating strategies and control algorithms.

High-temperature processes and solar fuels

DLR also conducts research on optimising the use of solar radiation in chemical process engineering. The aim here is to generate hydrogen or synthetic gas from the basic materials, water and carbon dioxide using high temperature solar heat. The research work will improve our understanding of the reaction mechanisms in order to store solar energy with greater efficiency.