Fluid-structure interaction analysis of a lightweight sandwich composite structure for solar central receiver heliostats

Sulaiman O. Fadlallah, Timothy N. Anderson, Roy J. Nates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Central tower concentrating solar power systems are moving to the forefront to become the technology of choice for generating renewable electricity, but their widespread implementation is limited by cost. Heliostats contribute almost 50% to the plant’s cost and are thus the most significant element in central tower systems. For both large and small-area heliostats, the drive elements demonstrate the largest cost element in these systems. While large-area heliostats (>100 m2) have proven offer the best economy compared to other sizes, they require high-torque drives due to the heavy steel-based support structure. Heliostat costs could be reduced by decreasing the support structure’s weight, avoiding large drive units and reducing energy consumption. However, the structure must be able to cope with the aerodynamic loads imposed upon them during operation. Although honeycomb sandwich composites have been widely used where high structural rigidity and low weight are desired, there is an absence of studies that rigorously investigated their suitability as the structure for heliostat mirror. Here, a fluid-structure interaction study investigated, for several loading conditions at various tilt and wind incidence angles, the aero-structural behavior characteristics of honeycomb sandwich composites used as a heliostat support structure. The honeycomb sandwich panel showed markedly different behavior characteristics at various operational conditions. The effect of tilt orientation on the sandwich panel’s maximum deflection and stresses became more pronounced as wind velocity increased above 10 m/s, and increasing wind incidence angle reduced their magnitudes at different rates. The supporting components and torque tube had a noticeable wind-shielding effect, causing pronounced changes in the deflection and stresses experienced by the heliostat. The worst operational condition was at a tilt angle of 30° with wind flow of 20 m/s at 0° to the heliostat surface. However, the heliostat maintained its structural integrity according to relevant optical and material failure standards.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5737-5766
Number of pages30
JournalMechanics Based Design of Structures and Machines
Issue number10
Early online date31 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2023


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