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Scientists unveil genius solar tower design that can generate power 24/7: '[It's] feasible to increase energy production'

"This mode is independent of solar irradiance and can operate day and night."

“This mode is independent of solar irradiance and can operate day and night."

Photo Credit: iStock

The power emanating from a tower in Saudi Arabia could soon be a substantial force, at least according to the simulations. 

By appearance, renderings of the twin solar tech look like a Middle Earth wizard's abode (think Isengard), though you won't find any tree-chopping orcs in this tech from the Middle East. 

The planet-friendly tower uses solar heat and the air's temperature to deliver energy "all day and all night," according to a report by the environmental news site Anthropocene. It was designed by experts from Qatar University and Jordan's Al Hussein Technical University. 

So far, the project is based on simulations and weather data, but the results are promising. The concept utilizes two 656-foot towers, one wrapped around the other. They are made from a material that can capture solar heat — like a greenhouse — warming air at the bottom of the inner tower. The hot air powers a turbine as it rises, all per Anthropocene. 

This level of tech isn't novel. So-called solar updraft towers have been studied for more than 100 years, Penn State reports. Researchers in the desert, however, have made a breakthrough by adding the secondary tower, utilizing cooler air in a downdraft. 

The inner updraft tower has a diameter of nearly 33 feet. The outer tower, which encircles it, has a diameter of nearly 45 feet. The space between the towers is divided into 10 channels. The "twin" tech is leveraged after the hot air rises, turning the main turbine. The air is then sprayed with a fine, cooling mist. The chillier air then travels down the 10 channels, turning other turbines, according to a description of the tech from Anthropocene. 

"The study showed that combining the downdraft tower technology with the solar updraft technology is feasible to increase energy production," the researchers wrote in a report published by ScienceDirect. 

The dual nature of the tower could help to make the expensive-to-build solar devices more feasible to construct, according to the experts. A big boon for the concept is that it works after the sun goes down, thanks to the cooling tower. 

"This mode is independent of solar irradiance and can operate day and night," the experts note in the ScienceDirect report

Solar power experts around the world are continuing to find ways to harness sun rays, in some cases reviving tech first used by ancient mathematicians. Archimedes focused sunlight using mirrors to combust an invading fleet of Roman ships, according to legend. The basic concept is being used now to create energy. The innovations are helping to transform the way we power our world. 

By producing double the power with twin towers, the Middle Eastern researchers can generate about 2.14 times the electricity as a standard solar updraft system. The simulation, which accounts for desert weather data, estimates the twin technique would generate about 753 megawatt-hours of energy each year, all per Anthropocene. 

For reference, a megawatt is "roughly enough electricity for the instantaneous demand of 750 homes at once," according to California ISO, the nonprofit that oversees the state's bulk electricity system.  

The research team notes that the tech works best in a desert setting, as humidity impairs performance. The cooling tower was impacted by seasonal temperature swings, among other hurdles. 

"The system has limitations, such as access to water for the operation of the downdraft system," the researchers told Anthropocene. 

The next step is a "techno-economic analysis," with an eye on scalability, per the report.  

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