Australia's science agency CSIRO has made a breakthrough in concentrated solar thermal energy storage. Utilizing ceramic particles, they reached a temperature milestone of 803°C. This development holds the potential for large-scale, low-cost renewable energy storage, paving the way for industrial decarbonization in Australia.
In a remarkable development, Australia's science agency CSIRO has announced a significant breakthrough in their concentrated solar thermal (CST) research facility in Newcastle, New South Wales. The facility successfully harnessed "falling ceramic particles" to capture and store solar energy as heat, reaching a crucial temperature of 803°C for the first time.
Jin-Soo Kim, who leads the solar technologies team, expressed the significance of this achievement, noting that it opens up greater possibilities for renewable energy storage. This is made possible through their patented heat exchanger, which is crucial for providing low-cost renewable energy to help decarbonize Australia's heavy industry.
Concentrated Solar Thermal technology is not new; its rudiments date back to the 1800s. The core idea involves using mirrors to concentrate sunlight, convert it into heat, and store it or use it to generate electricity. Traditional CST methods have been limited by their heat transfer fluids, which could only handle up to 600°C and 400°C for molten salt and high-temperature oil, respectively.
What sets the current advancement apart is the use of ceramic particles. These particles can withstand temperatures above 1000°C and act like a heat battery. Once heated, they store the energy for up to 15 hours and can release it when needed, providing a reliable power source even during periods of low solar and wind output.
The ceramic particles are dropped from a hopper at the top of a tower and are heated as they pass through focused solar energy. Their temperature can shoot from 500°C to 800°C, and possibly over 1000°C in more advanced setups. Unlike traditional methods using steel tubes, these particles fall freely, thus avoiding the heat limitations of steel.
This advancement comes as timely for Australia, where 62% of coal-fired power stations are expected to close before 2033. Dominic Saal, a researcher involved in the project, emphasized that this CST technology with ceramic particles could play an instrumental role in Australia's net-zero transition, particularly in industrial decarbonization.
A full-scale CST facility might employ over 10,000 larger mirrors and can generate power similar to a 100 MW coal plant. Moreover, this technology has garnered interest from industrial players, such as pet food manufacturer Mars, who is considering implementing a CST system to provide renewable steam for its manufacturing processes.
CSIRO's breakthrough in concentrated solar thermal technology is a big step forward for renewable energy and could greatly accelerate Australia's transition to a net-zero carbon footprint. This innovative use of ceramic particles in CST offers a promising, sustainable, and effective alternative to traditional energy sources, and it has the potential to transform not just Australia's energy landscape but also contribute to global efforts against climate change.