You are here

US DOE invests $10m to advance CSP

US Department of Energy five-year investment for universities to improve efficiency of concentrated solar power

The DOE investment aims to speed up innovations in CSP technology

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced a series of projects to accelerate breakthroughs in concentrated solar power (CSP). As part of its solar power initiative, SunShot, the DOE has made investments totalling USD 10m over five years for two university-led projects to advance innovative CSP technologies, improve efficiency and reduce costs.

CSP technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect solar energy and convert it to heat that can be used to produce electricity. Heat transfer fluids are a key component of CSP systems that transfer heat from a receiver to the point where the heat is needed to drive a turbine. The investments dramatically improve heat transfer fluids, helping to increase the efficiencies and lower costs for CSP systems.

The Department’s SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.

Secretary Steven Chu, who announced the investments as part of the initiative, said: “Advanced concentrating solar power systems represent a promising pathway for utilities to provide reliable, affordable solar electricity to American families and businesses. The investments made today as part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy will help accelerate commercialisation of new, lower cost renewable energy technologies and diversify our nation’s energy portfolio.”

The projects selected will focus on making dramatic improvements to heat transfer fluids that gather thermal energy from the sun and transport it to the power block, where the energy is used to drive a turbine that generates electricity.

Today’s state-of the-art heat transfer fluids are capable of operating at temperatures up to about 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures in excess of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit are needed to reach efficiencies greater than 50 percent, which allow CSP plants to capture more energy from solar power. The selected projects are working to develop heat transfer fluids that can operate at temperatures up to 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit, while simultaneously maintaining high levels of performance.

Two US university teams have been selected to develop new heat transfer fluids in USD 5m projects over five year periods. These are the University of California in Los Angeles, which will lead a team with researchers including from Yale University to investigate liquid metals as potential heat transfer fluids with the ability to withstand higher temperatures.

Meanwhile, the University of Arizona, is teaming up with researchers from Arizona State University and Georgia Tech to develop and demonstrate new, molten salt-based, fluids as possible alternatives to traditional heat transfer fluids.

The DOE said: “These investments are part of the Energy Department’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative, which brings together university teams from many different scientific disciplines to advance innovative research, accelerate technology transfer into the marketplace, and prepare a new generation of scientists and engineers to become leaders in the solar power industry.”