Could Curtin’s night-time solar power system rival the need for fossil fuels?
A collaboration led by Curtin University could be about to revolutionise the renewable energy industry and rival polluting fossil fuels as a viable power source for heavy industries across the world.
The team is developing an innovative thermal battery which will be a key component in allowing solar power systems to produce electricity overnight. This new capability will put the energy supply on par with the more environmentally damaging, but higher yield, fuels like coal, and supply enough energy to power high consumption industries and commercial activities.
The project is building on the Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) system being developed by United Sun Systems, which requires a special battery to enable non-stop solar power generation.
“Storage has long been a stumbling point for renewable energy but our prototype thermal battery is able to store and, as required, release solar energy without reliance on sunlight at all times,” lead on the project, Curtin’s Professor Craig Buckley said in a statement.
Buckley explains how the battery works by using a high-temperature metal hydride, or metal carbonate, as the heat storage medium and a low-temperature gas storage vessel for storing the hydrogen or carbon dioxide. When the sun disappears at night or during cloud cover, hydrogen or carbon dioxide is released from the gas storage vessel and absorbed by the higher temperature metal. This forms a metal hydride/metal carbonate, which produces heat which is used to generate electricity.
This thermochemical energy storage will be integrated into a dish-Stirling system that has so far not received the research attention it deserves as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Despite having the highest efficiency of any solar power generation system, the dish-Stirling system was eclipsed by photovoltaic solar panels as their efficiency improved and their costs dropped.
The system was initially directed at solving small-scale energy needs, such as providing off-grid power for remote homes and other smaller operations. However, as the dish-Stirling systems are capable of converting nearly 30 percent of direct-normal incident solar radiation into electricity – higher than any other solar system – they are now getting a second look for industry and commercial use.
Researchers envisage the new developed battery linked with a dish-Stirling system ideal for powering remote energy intensive industries such as mine sites. A dish-Stirling system can provide up to 46 kW of power on demand and as required. With the use of several dishes, the power requirements of entire sites can be met.
Curtin University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Chris Moran believes the team’s final product could “revolutionise the landscape of renewable energy production worldwide.”