Australia's national scientific body, CSIRO, is getting ready to unveil a brand new solar tower on June 18-- and it's poised to be the most adaptable, dynamic solar research facility in the world.
The first of its kind in Australia, this large-scale demonstration site will be an international hub for researching and commercialising concentrated solar energy technology.
In 2010, CSIRO began construction on a new solar thermal field, tower and research facility at its National Solar Energy Centre in Newcastle, New South Wales as part of a government-funded A$5 million collaboration between the CSIRO Energy Transformed Flagship and the Australian National University (ANU).
The solar tower research facility consists of a 30 metre high solar tower, making it the tallest in Australia, and also houses a high-temperature receiver and a 4,000 square metre field of 450 heliostats, capable of generating solar energy at a temperature of over 1000 ºC.
The facility is an international hub for researching and commercialising concentrated solar energy technology – already attracting international collaboration with MHI Japan.
CSIRO will use the facility to develop and test one of the world’s most powerful solar air turbines to generate electricity from air and sunshine alone, without water.
SOLAR AIR TURBINES
According to CSIRO, the air turbine uses what is called the ‘Brayton Cycle;’ a thermodynamic cycle (transferring heat and actions, while varying pressure and temperature), commonly used in jet engine turbines.
The process is outlined here:
Concentrated solar energy is reflected by 450 custom designed heliostats (mirrors) to the solar receiver that sits on top of a 30 metre high tower. The receiver houses the air turbine and air compressor.
Fresh air is drawn into the compressor; the air is compressed and then transferred to the solar receiver.
The compressed air in the solar receiver is then heated to temperatures up to 1500 degrees Celsius using concentrated solar energy.
The hot air is then forced through the 200kW turbine to generate electricity.
Electricity is then fed into the grid or used by CSIRO to power the site.
ENERGY STORAGE AND GENERATION
The energy generated at the 4,000 square metre site will be fed back into Newcastle’s electrical grid. Although this site is being used for research, a site of this size could generate enough electricity to power nearly 200 homes. To overcome weather/sun variability the compressed air can also be heated by natural gas combustion, and in addition CSIRO is investigating solar energy storage, CSIRO says.