His traps also could for the first time provide a viable way to operate power plants by collecting energy above 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit the heat needed to drive the turbines that generate electricity. Such high-temperature plants would significantly top the efficiency of conventional nuclear-, coal- and gas-powered plants, further reducing costs, he said.
Higher-temperature collection in all of these uses, he said, would overcome one of the tallest barriers to a solar age: the inability to develop cheap, long-term storage of thermal energy from the sun. Ace said that his invention would allow weeks of high-temperature storage at one-tenth to one-hundredth of the current cost, meaning that solar power systems could generate electricity uninterrupted during lengthy stints of cloudy weather.
His traps will be so efficient that they can be used even in less sunny regions, he said.
Until Ace shares his secrets, produces a working prototype, licenses a major project or wins the blessing of a peer review panel, he may get little credence.
There are few cases in history where people come up with something which is totally unexpected, said Ramamoorthy Ramesh, a former head of the U.S. Energy Departments Sunshot solar program, tasked to spur solar energy innovation. Who knows? It may actually be correct. But Im an experimentalist. And until its proven, I dont believe it.
If Ace is making history, his invention may stand alongside the introduction of the steam engine 300 years ago that set the stage for the Industrial Revolution.
Ace said that confidentiality agreements are being signed so that solar experts at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., can review his invention. He already has confided details to former President Jimmy Carter, who created the Energy Department in 1977 with a mission of sponsoring transformative science and technology solutions. Former U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, who was Darnells boss and has championed Aces search for investors, has called the inventor a genius.
A major stumbling block for solar thermal energy devices invented to date has been that, as temperatures rise, increasing amounts of energy escapes, or radiates away, from their receivers. At 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit, currently designed receivers would radiate as much energy as they collect, sinking their efficiency to zero, solar experts say.
In his patent application, Ace wrote that his invention amounts to a high-temperature blackbody absorber that is similar in some ways to an astronomical black hole.
The key, he said, is his traps ability to absorb nearly 100 percent of the sunshine that hits it, while allowing only a tiny percentage of energy to escape, even at ultra-high temperatures.
Such a feat would astound many solar experts, who have had little success combating radiation losses in pilot solar plants, which use fields of mirrors to redirect and concentrate sunlight on common receivers.
Ace said that he contacted five national laboratories during his research, floating his interpretations of physics laws or double-checking his methodology on complex math equations without divulging his invention.
Darnell, who is barred by a confidentiality agreement from revealing its details, said that even if the solar trap comes up way short, its going to be way ahead of the competition.