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Sun June 13 2021

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Dutch team develops ‘fold-out’ energy tower

5 Aug 19 A team of Dutch researchers and companies has developed a 21m-tall fold-out tower that incorporates solar collectors and a wind turbine to provide power at festivals.

The Gem tower has been completely unfolded by a crane ahead of next week's testing at the Pukkelpop festival. Photo by Bart van Overbeeke
The Gem tower has been completely unfolded by a crane ahead of next week's testing at the Pukkelpop festival. Photo by Bart van Overbeeke

The ‘Gem’ tower has been developed by researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) working with 10 companies. It is now ready for trials after being fully erected for the first time. A crane was used for today’s unfolding of the tower on a field at the TU/e campus. The tower’s first practical test will take place next week during the Pukkelpop festival.

The research team points out that almost all festivals in Europe use polluting diesel generators as their power supply. The polluting nature of festivals had long been a thorn in the side of associate professor of innovative structural design Faas Moonen, who secured a €2.3m subsidy from Interreg Europe for the project, he began work in 2017 on a sustainable alternative, appointing a postdoc and three PDEng researchers to help him. Ten companies, including the festival organizers of Pukkelpop and Eurosonic Noorderslag, are currently working on the project.

“Eventually, a whole group of towers will have to travel around the European festivals and provide them with 100% sustainable energy,” said Moonen. “I also hope that their striking appearance will make festival goers more aware of sustainability.”

Three PdEng students from TU/e work on the project: Floor van Schie (left), Marius Lazauskas (centre) and Patrick Lenaers (right). Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

Sustainable solutions have existed for some time but combining them was a major challenge for the research team. “We had to constantly find a balance between designing a beautiful eye-catcher, guaranteeing safety and our desire to be able to generate as much energy as possible. That was quite a puzzle,” said Moonen.

Sustainability is not just about generating energy: the tower itself is made of sustainable materials and thought has been given to the sustainable transport. Although the precise yield of the tower has yet to be proven through tests, it should be able to generate electricity for no less than 261 days per year. In addition, the base of the tower consists of a 3m-high battery pack that can store 90 kWh of electricity to ensure energy security.

Most of the energy is generated by a vertical wind turbine weighing 700kg and standing at a height of 18m. If there is no wind, solar cells ensure stable power generation. As many as 144 small, flexible thin-foil solar cells adorn the tower. In addition, the research team is supplying 72 large, flexible solar cells that festival organizers can put on the roofs of their food stalls, lavatory units or tents and connect to the tower’s battery pack.

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The tower’s 40 coloured solar collectors are luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) panels that were developed at TU/e by the research group of Professor Michael Debije in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Chemistry. The panels catch incoming rays of light in their plates and transfer them to the edges. In the frames of the panels are solar cells that convert these concentrated light beams into electricity. Moonen said: “Because the LSC panels do not need direct sunlight, they are more widely applicable than solar cells. In both the shade and in the sun, they provide energy. Even on a completely cloudy day, they continue to produce electricity.”

In order to also make transportation more sustainable, the tower has been designed to be foldable. As a result, it takes less than a day to assemble. The 3,500kg steel part of the tower is folded up to be about 1m thick and can be folded out to a height of 14 meters. The whole thing is attached with 300 joints and 542 bolts. To unfold the current model, a crane is required, but the intention is for the next design to unfold automatically at the push of a button.

Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

The coming year will be devoted to testing the tower. In 2020, this model will be fully operational and will travel to festivals. Moonen said: “In addition to the towers, we also want to keep our eyes open to other forms of sustainable energy generation. My dream is to eventually provide all kinds of large-scale events – in both summer and winter – with sustainable electricity through a network of batteries, towers, solar cells and other sustainable innovations.”

In addition to Tu/e, the other partners in the project are: IBIS-Power, Double2, Pukkelpop, Off Grid Energy Limited, Dour, RPS, Eurosonic Noorderslag, Flexotels and ZAP.

Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

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