One of the first installations we ever worked on at Solar America Solutions involved fitting a poultry farm with a solar collector panel array and peripheral equipment to be used to power a second egg washing machine for their operations. Though that installation was technically for hot water only, you could make the case that we were providing process heat. Since then, we have worked on a number of projects directly involving process heat.
Given our involvement in solar thermal for commercial applications, you can understand how pleased we were to learn of a successful project in Mexico involving solar thermal process heat from mining operations. Yes, solar thermal technology is not limited exclusively to generating space heat and hot water for commercial buildings. It has many more applications limited only by the imagination of designers and engineers.
The Mexican project, which was based on a similar project installed in Chile in 2013, provides process heat for copper mining. The project consists of 39,300 m² of solar collector space and a 660 m³ storage tank. Installation was completed in early September. Project officials expect the installation to provide nearly all the process heat needed by the mine.
Learning from the Previous Example
Installation at the La Parreña mine in central Mexico was completed in partnership with the Gabriela Mistral mine in Chile. That earlier project was completed in 2013 and has since produced some 142,000 MWh of process heat for mining operations. However, there is a distinct difference between the two. The project in Chile is large enough to be considered an independent Energy Service Company, requiring it to be managed by a third-party partner. The Mexican installation is far smaller. The mine operators themselves can manage it.
Getting back to the solar thermal installation in Chile, it operates at a near break-even pace. In other words, the 142,000 MWh produced by the installation is almost identical to the amount of energy the mine has used over its 35 months of operation. What goes into the system goes out nearly entirely. It should also be noted that the plant generates a minimum of 80% of its own power at any given time. They have to if they want to avoid government fines.
How It All Works
The solar thermal technology deployed at the mines in Mexico and Chile is based on the same principle we use here at Solar America Solutions. Solar energy is captured by a collector panel that immediately converts it to heat energy and transfers it to a thermal liquid. That thermal liquid is then circulated through a heat exchanger before going back to the collector panels.
Heat from the exchanger can then be distributed in any number of ways. For the mining operations, it’s used mostly for electrolytic refining. In other industrial applications, it could be used to wash down equipment or parts, concentrate liquids, dry materials, or even wash eggs as demonstrated by our poultry farm project.
The potential of solar thermal is really limited only to space constraints. For the typical commercial office building, a rather small number of patented SunQuest 250™ solar thermal collectors installed on the roof would be sufficient for hot water and space heat. More area would obviously be required for industrial applications requiring space heat, water, and process heat.
For more information about solar thermal technology or our patented SunQuest 250™ solar thermal collector, please feel free to contact us anytime. We believe the future of renewable energy resides in solar thermal, and we want to get you on board right away.
1.Solar Thermal World – http://www.solarthermalworld.org/content/mexico-second-solar-process-heat-case-study-copper-mining