Concrete Sunflowers May Bring Energy to Millions

by: Michela Stribling

Did you know that concrete was invented by the Romans roughly 2,000 years ago? Think of the Pantheon, one of the most beautiful (at least to my mind) monuments in a city overflowing with stunning architecture. It was commissioned during the reign of the Emperor Augustus by Marcus Agrippa and its dome still holds the record as the largest ever built of un-reinforced concrete.

Yes, concrete.

I was thinking about concrete’s ancient origins when Gianluca Ambrosetti, head of research for Airlight Energy, took the stage recently at TED@IBM. Ambrosetti isn’t focused on the past. He’s all about a future where solar energy will utterly transform the way we deliver power to even the most remote corners of the globe.

At the heart of this vision is an ingenious sunflower made of such commonly available items as concrete and simple mirrors made of thin aluminum foil. Talk about taking an ancient and relatively inexpensive product and using it in new and unexpected ways to potentially improve the lives of millions of people! The sunflower addresses one rather well-known problem with solar power. By the time the sun’s rays reach the earth, they aren’t super powerful, which means that traditional solar energy setups require large solar cells. Ambrosetti and his team use the sunflower to concentrate the sun’s power, thus reducing the size of the solar cells.

This sunflower, though small by design, is also mighty.

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