$150,000 boost helps solar-power project

There is a "hell of a lot of energy in the sun", and a feasibility study to capture that power for humans is under way in Dunedin.

Scott Technology, along with Farra Engineering and energy-management software developer Energy Link, received a $150,000 contribution for the study from the Dunedin City Council in its latest industry project funding round.

Scott Technology chief executive Chris Hopkins said the study would investigate establishing a pilot plant for converting sand into silica, for use on solar panels.

Making solar panels was usually an "energy-intensive" process, but the University of Arizona, in the United States, had created a way to make them using chemicals which was "much more cost-effective".

"If we can get the right sort of purity [of sand], they have a chemical process which eliminates some of the energy input," Mr Hopkins said.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) had been in talks with the university about the development, which subsequently talked to Scott Technology about being involved in the engineering side of it.

The American university was attracted to working in Dunedin because of a connection with the University of Otago's chemistry department, he said.

"A lot" of background work had been done already including the completion of some samples and process refinement by Intex, a US company also involved in the project.

The council grant would give the project a "kick-start", with increased activity expected before Christmas.

The pilot plant, which would cost about $500,000 which NZTE had also funded, would take about 12 to 18 months to complete.

It would involve testing sand, extracted from existing quarries in the lower South Island, for its purity, and processing it so it could be sliced for solar panels.

While the study was under way, $1.5 million of funding was being sought in the US to build a 500-tonne-per-year pilot silica-processing plant, which, if the study proved successful, would be built in Dunedin.

The 500-tonne plant, which would employ about 30 people, would be scaled up into a 5000-tonne plant, which would employ about 200 people, and could go global.

This stage was "more around the paperwork and design to get everything in place", Mr Hopkins said.

There was a lot of interest in solar technology because it was "clean and green" and there was "a hell of a lot of energy in the sun".

The project was a great opportunity for the partners to develop engineering knowledge, and to open new international markets for them.





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