New Solar Thermal Energy Storage Method Boosts Solar Potential

First Posted: Nov 04, 2015 10:30 AM EST

Engineers have created a new method of storing concentrated solar thermal energy. This new technique will lower the cost and will enable solar thermal energy to be used on a wider scale, according to a study at Oregon State University.

"With the compounds we're studying, there's significant potential to lower costs and increase efficiency," said Nick AuYeung, an author of the study and an assistant professor of chemical engineering, in a news release. "In these types of systems, energy efficiency is closely related to use of the highest temperatures possible."

The researchers' new thermochemical storage will eliminate the need of having to use acquired thermal energy immediately. The energy produced can be stored and used later when the electricity is most needed. Some of the energy could be used instantly, while the rest can be stored for future use. Long term storage will enable thermal energy to have wider uses and it will cut the need for immediate use, according to the researchers.

Solar thermal energy is developed at power plants where acres of mirrors reflect sunlight into a solar receiver. This energy is used to heat fluid that drives a turbine to produce electricity. Solar thermal energy is cost effective and it is environmentally friendly, since no greenhouse gases are emitted in the process.

"The molten salts now being used to store solar thermal energy can only work at about 600 degrees centigrade, and also require large containers and corrosive materials. The compound we're studying can be used at up to 1,200 degrees, and might be twice as efficient as existing systems," said AuYeung. "This has the potential for a real breakthrough in energy storage."

The thermochemical storage is similar to a battery, where chemical bonds store and release energy - the transfer is based on heat instead of electricity, according to AuYeung. The materials used to create the new thermochemical storage are nonflammable, they are environmentally safe and it is cheap to build.

This study was supported by SunShot Initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy and researchers at the University of Florida.

The findings of this study were published in the journal ChemSusChem.

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