The SOCRATE project (Concentrated Solar Energy, Advanced Research and Energy Technology) aims at setting up a National experimental platform, with an International dimension, in the field of concentrated solar energy (CSE). SOCRATE will offer the means for developping research and technology in the CSE field, particularly at high concentrations. The project proposes to improve existing facilities and to install new ones. Despite the accelerating development of CSE in Europe and in the world, the number of R&D platform is very small. In Europe, only Plataforma Solar de Almeria (PSA, CIEMAT) offers a full set of pilot scale facilities more adapted to demontration than to research. The SOCRATE platform is based on the improvement of existing facilities such as solar concentrating facilities of CNRS Odeillo-Font Romeu and central receiver concentrator of Thémis in Targasonne, and on new equipments such as a pilot trough loop and solar thermal materials characterization means.

The main originality consists in the high concentration that can be reached (up to 15000). The platform will offer unique facilities, staff and expertise for studying: materials under extreme conditions for space and energy applications, components and systems for solar thermal electricity production and solar thermochemistry for producing synthetic fuels and materials. The main aims is clearly to set up in France a world class platform on concentrated solar energy in order to develop high level basic researches and technology innovations.

The scientific and technical bottlenecks addressed may be defined for each domain:

  1. Materials under extreme conditions: to achieve in situ measurements, to identify and to understand degradation mechanisms, to define a methodology for accelerated aging and to simulate spatial conditions on earth;
  2. concentrated solar electricity: to reduce optical dispersion and cost of reflectors, to increase the thermal efficiency, the operation temperature and the life time of solar receivers; to develop new heat transfer fluids (safe and clean); to propose new storage media at high temperatures and to increase the power density of the storage systems; to develop high concentration PV systems;
  3. solar thermochemistry: to understand the chemistry of thermochemical cycles for water and carbon dioxide decomposition, to develop solar reactors for thermal treatment and synthesis of materials and to scale-up the processes.

The work programme includes:

  1. the renovation of the 1 MW Odeillo solar furnace (modernization of an existing facility),
  2. the improvement of the Themis central receiver concentrating system (extension of an existing facility),
  3. the setting up pilot trough loop in the CNRS Odeillo site (new equipment)
  4. the development of a department for solar thermal materials characterization (new equipments).

The main expected innovations are related to: qualification of materials at high temperature (the SOCRATE solar facilities allow to simulate extreme temperature -up to more than 3000°C- combined with low pressures and ionized or exited media); improvement of life time prediction of solar materials (when submitted to high solar flux density); increase of heat tranfer under high radiative flux (flux density as high as 10 MW/m2 - 15 MW/m2 may be achieved (the only solar facility in the world that achieved these solar irradiations); thermodynamic conversion solar systems (the SOCRATE platform will allow experiments of components and systems in the power range from some 10 kW to 5 MW in the temperature domain 250°C-1000°C); high concentration photovoltaic (CPV): testing multijunction cells for concentration higher than 1000 and establishing the proof of concept on new PV conversion mechanisms (up conversion of photons); solar thermochemistry for synthetic fuels production from water and carbon dioxide and materials elaboration (new chemical systems and new solar reactors). This project has pluridisciplinary dimension because it addresses physics, material science, thermal sciences, energetics and chemical engineering. In terms of partnership it will increase the attractivity of the facilities with respect to users from public research and industry because it will improve strongly the existing facilities and will offer new facilities and services.

The platform will be opened to common projects with industry on the basis of the following:

  1. collaborative projects and
  2. provisions of a service.