Followers of concentrating solar energy have weathered a storm of criticism over time, however the dream simply received’t die. They converse of a 100-megawatt facility that may ship electrical energy 24/7, similar to a nuclear energy plant however with out the danger issue and the flamboyant price ticket, too. That’s asking loads, however the US Division of Power has latched on to a brand new ceramic-based expertise that would ship the products.
The Ups & Downs Of Concentrating Photo voltaic Energy
For these of you new to the subject, concentrating solar energy crops don’t use typical photovoltaic panels to gather photo voltaic power. As an alternative, they deploy a subject of specialised mirrors that bounce daylight onto a central level. The photo voltaic power heats up a retailer of specialised oil or molten salt, which is then piped to a producing station the place it may possibly run a turbine.
If that sounds costly, inefficient, and complex, it may be. Even so, concentrating solar energy has been catching on elsewhere around the globe. The benefit is that the energy-absorbing medium, whether or not oil or salt, additionally acts as a inbuilt power storage reservoir, enabling the generators to maintain spinning lengthy after the solar goes down.
Getting a foothold right here within the US is a distinct kettle of fish. The Obama administration showcased a bunch of 5 CSP crops within the Southwest, however this system didn’t stimulate a lot follow-on curiosity amongst non-public buyers.
The Power Division went again to the drafting board in 2015 and got here up with a program known as CSP: APOLLO. This system goals to establish new applied sciences and programs that may present for high-temperature operation, outlined as greater than 720°C, the thought being that larger temperatures may end up in effectivity enhancements whereas slicing prices. The official aim is a minimal of fifty% thermal-to-electric conversion effectivity, which the Power Division describes as “dramatically extra environment friendly than present expertise.”
One Bizarre Trick May Make Concentrating Photo voltaic Energy Occur: Ceramics
Oddly sufficient, the Trump administration continued to assist the Power Division’s R&D work on excessive temperature concentrating solar energy, regardless of the previous President’s oft-repeated promise to avoid wasting coal jobs and a stab at creating extra nuclear power jobs, too.
Throughout Trump’s first yr in workplace, CleanTechnica caught wind of an Power Division article extolling the advantages of CSP services. The article talked about one thing about $62 million in funding for a brand new program known as Technology 3 CSP Methods, and that’s the place issues get attention-grabbing.
Gen 3 CSP focuses on figuring out new high-temperature applied sciences which have handed muster on the laboratory scale, and assembling them into programs that may be subject examined beneath varied circumstances.
“This consists of the event of a take a look at facility that permits numerous groups of researchers, laboratories, builders and producers to take away key technological dangers for the following era CSP expertise and allow the discount of the levelized value of power (LCOE) for electrical energy generated by CSP to six ¢/kWh or much less, with out subsidies, by the tip of the last decade,” the Power Division explains.
By 2018, a few of the new Gen 3 CSP initiatives started crossing the CleanTechnica radar regularly, together with an revolutionary “falling particle” system primarily based on gravity and ceramics, developed by Sandia Nationwide Laboratories. We additionally had an opportunity to talk with the consultants about one other venture involving new alloys for high-temperature CSP services.
A New Daybreak For CSP
One other Power Division focus of consideration is the Invoice Gates CSP enterprise Heliogen, which burst out of stealth mode in 2019 with a aim of working at 1,000 levels centigrade.
The final time we checked into Heliogen, they have been on observe to set up their CSP system to assist minimize emissions at a boron mine in California.
That was again in 2021. When you’ve got any breaking information concerning the venture, drop us a observe within the remark thread. In the meantime, it appears to be like like Sandia Nationwide Laboratory is off to the races. Final week, the Power Division introduced that it chosen Sandia for a $25 million award aimed toward constructing, testing, and working a brand new CSP system on the company’s Nationwide Photo voltaic Thermal Check Facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The brand new concentrating solar energy system culminates a complete of $100 million in funding for top temperature CSP. It should showcase Sandia’s falling particle expertise, which might function at temperatures above 800°C.
“These particles can be utilized to switch and retailer warmth or energy a supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) turbine. If profitable, one of these solar energy plant might present 100 megawatts of energy constantly, across the clock, at low value,” the Power Division enthused, including that their electricity-plus-storage aim is 5 cents per kilowatt hour.
Wait, What Particles?
DOE stacked up the particle method in comparison with different programs and recognized a number of key benefits.
“After this evaluate, DOE decided that particle-based programs require fewer parts and are much less complicated to function in contrast with liquid- and gas-based programs,” they defined. “Moreover, particle-based programs want comparatively few high-cost supplies to gather and transport thermal power. These components might improve plant availability and reliability and allow easier plant development and commissioning.”
DOE additionally famous that the particle-based expertise might assist decarbonize industries that depend on excessive course of warmth of greater than 800° Celsius, along with producing electrical energy.
As for the particles themselves, they’re primarily based on aluminum oxide and register a diameter of simply 300 micrometers every.
“The heated particles are then saved in an insulated bin earlier than passing by means of a particle-to-working-fluid warmth exchanger. The warmth exchanger’s working fluid will simulate a high-efficiency Brayton cycle utilizing supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) with an exit temperature of 720°C,” DOE explains, “Then the cooled particles are collected and moved again to the highest of the receiver by way of a bucket elevator or skip hoist.”
That also sounds difficult and costly, however apparently not so. For those who caught that factor about supercritical carbon dioxide, that’s a part of the rationale. Supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) is the liquid type of CO2. When deployed to run a turbine, sCO2 can present for effectivity positive aspects and a way more compact footprint, resulting in diminished prices.
The Power Division anticipates that the falling-particle concentrating solar energy setup might yield 100 megawatts of low-cost energy across the clock.
If non-public buyers have been skittish about concentrating solar energy within the US earlier than, they could change their tune after 2024, when the Sandia system is predicted to be up and working.
In the meantime, Heliogen appears to be going by means of a tough patch, however earlier this month the corporate introduced a brand new CEO, Christie Obiaya, who has a plan for turning issues round. Along with her expertise in energy-related venture improvement, Ms. Obiaya is an engineer with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from MIT.
Comply with me on Trainwreck Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Discover me on LinkedIn: @TinaMCasey or Mastodon: @Casey or Put up: @tinamcasey
Picture (cropped): New Mexico will host a brand new concentrating solar energy plant to showcase falling particle expertise, courtesy of US Division of Power.