Symbionts Lab is a new open source startup focussing its work in affordable, renewable and sustainable energy for everyone. With a first demonstrator – a parabolic mirror dish – the way towards a decentralized future energy net was opened. Using mainly discarded objects to test and proove the abilities of circular economies, it was possible with the help of the studio, the workshops and their masters at UdK and the profound knowledge and ideas of the DIY community in the world wide web to build a working prototype which successfully concentrates solar energy.
Turning a satellite dish into a parabolic mirror is obvious and could repeated thousands of times. The lightweight and minimal mechanic system of the updgraded satellite dish will not change the impression of our citys but they will recieve a glittering finish, finally with a purpose. These new reattached mirrors could turn the existing dead hulls into “living” facades as they follow the path of the sun and have a desired metabolism.
I think the process of upcycling outdated things and obtaining a reasonable surplus of energy (in any form) out of it could named symbiosis, which leds to the title of the project.
Process of making Symbiont #1
1: The materials list at the very beginning – trying to use as many used and discarded objects as possible
2: A very simple first prototype of the stirling motor
3: It became clear very fast that the rules and concepts of thermodynamics are a crucial aspect of a project which tries to collect and transform heat energy from the sun.
4: Mechanics where the second important aspect of building a machine. For rapid prototyping a second hand metal construction kit (eitech) helped me for basic understanding of movement, operation and optimizing the machine
5: A stirling engine is a heat engine which can transform heat energy (from the sun) into mechanical work (rotary movement) which can further transformed into electric energy (using a generator).
6: Building a solar tracker for the mirror is neccessary and not so easy as it sounds. Understanding electronics on a very basic level is needed to succeed. You can find everything you need in forums and tutorials in the web.
7: A simple solar tracker with pure electronics consists mainly out of LDR (light depended resistor) voltage divider (1), a comperator circuit using a operational amplifier (LM324) (2) and a motor h-bridge circuit which either turns the motor in one or the other direction if one of the LDRs gains more light than the other.
8: Model of dish mechanics and light tracing movement using “pure” electronics.
9: Bringing all the aspects and parts of the machine together results in quite a complex system. The process of energy gathering starts with the mirror dish and the attached mechanics and controlling (1). The radiation of the sun will be focussed through the parabolic shape of the dish (2). With a heat exchanger placed at the focus point of the dish (3) the thermal energy can transported with a pipe (4) to a storage (5) or directly for further processing to transformation machine (6). In this setup a stirling engine is used, but there are several other methods to transform thermal energy into other types of energy.
10: The move from a small to a 1:1 model included multiple challenges / aspects to think about: broad reproducibility; use of existing, discarded objects; accessibility of materials; use of basic tools; durability of the system; static reliability and safe independend working mode. Not all of these topics are solved yet!
11: Because of fast prototyping, beginning of widespread availability and huge community of tinkerers world wide I decided to use 3D printed parts to complete the mirror dish system. As forework a precise 3D model was created in Rhino3D with classic hand and sketch measure methods. Rhino3D offers long trial usage and has a big community.
12: For a satisfactory function of the dish system the mechanics including the gears are crucial. As Rhino3D lacks some basic mechanical functions a more specialiced software was used to design the worm gears- Fusion360. Fusion360 was available as education licence but also offers free usage for hobby tinkerers.
13: Now it was time to start 3D printing. For the first Symbiont prototype I used PLA filament on my Geeetech A10 printer which I got second hand for 70€. It is important to know the tools you are using so I had some broken and unfinished prints in the beginning. With patience with the machine and help from the community it was possible to print the needed gears and parts (note: due to time and safety concerns the worm gear was printed on a Ultimaker 2+ in the workshop)
14: It is time to test and assemble the 1:1 mechanics and electronics now. Due to lack of strong DC-motors and easier controlling I switched to Arduino controlled stepper motors.
15: Getting the desired movements with a relativly simple tool setup and only small mechanical knowledge leads to some improvisation. This clamped in bearings work but could be done better. I’ve discoverd this method on youtube (tinyurl.com/3duhccmm).
16: The whole collector system is getting shape and for presentation and test setup I used an old tripod of mine which I had resting in the basement. Also the point mounting at the tripod shows the minimal “footprint” of the collector.
17: Getting the collector nice and shiny was a process of try and error in the beginning. The concept of using the pure material over attaching small mirrors to the dish was more convenient for me. To remove the original varnish coating of the dish I used an accu angle grinder with 80 grit serrated disc. I had to recharge the 5Ah battery 4 times to get the first layer off the dish.
18: Error: polishing from 80 grit doesn’t make any significant change towards a mirrorish surface!
19: Professional help from the metal workshop: background knowledge, strong and adjustable speed angle grinder (Bosch GWS 17-125 Inox) and broad accesories.
20: Getting to know the material aluminum and use the correct tools to grind and polish it was important for recieving a high reflective surface.
21: From the mat surface from above I used a special unitized finishing disc (Format, tinyurl.com/2p9fd4kp) in very fine grit option. There is no exact value given but the workshop master said it should have around 1000 grit.
24: Time to test the parabolic mirror dish in some rare Berlin winter sun! It worked remarkably good- 200+°C (in seconds) on the 14th of february 2022 at around 4pm with 13°C environment temperature.
25: Yes, the tape at the reciever started to burn!
26: Some last touches at the elevation axis which needs to be fixed on the bike fork. This part troubled me the most as it was completly designed by myself and the small experience I got from the models and former test 3D prints.
27: I also played around with topological optimization but because the lack of computing power and time for further testing and printing I decided to stick to the “massive” version of the elevation holders.
28: Luckily the measurements of the bike fork I made by hand was correct and the printed parts fit with the dish and the rest of the mechanics. The dish is slightly out of gravity center so I have to apply a counter weight later for better movement of the elevation axis. But it works as expected!
29: The final test setup of the collector dish system at our studio presentation day.
30: Used tools.
Heavy simplified energy flow overview of human interaction system (Earth).
A shared high temperature net will store and provide the energy of the future. Using salty liquids it is possible to store more energy in the same amount of space or volume due to its very high boiling temperatures.
The outer hull of the existing buildings will become a connection space for add-ons of every kind. Here only the Symbiont #1 is attached in different ways. The collected energy will flow directly to the shared energy net. Big saisonal high temperature storage tanks will be installed in the basement to provide a buffer and more energy storage. A heat exchanger connected to the storage will provide the building with the needed energy (heating, cooling, electricity).