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P & W Rocketdyne aims to make concentrated solar power towers cheaper and more efficient

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June 23, 2011

Artist's impression of SolarReserve's Concentrated Solar Power Tower plant

Artist's impression of SolarReserve's Concentrated Solar Power Tower plant

One of, if not the biggest, hurdles to be overcome if solar power plants are to replace conventional fossil fuel-based power plants is cost. To be feasible, solar power plants generally require investment from forward thinking companies or governmental tax incentives. In an effort to make solar power plants - specifically Concentrated Solar Power Towers (CSP) and their accompanying thermal storage systems - more attractive, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has awarded Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne US$10.2 million to develop technologies aimed at significantly lowering the electricity costs of such solar plants.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne has already developed designs for CSP Tower technology that uses thousands of articulating mirrors (heliostats) that track the sun and reflect solar energy onto a receiver mounted atop a 600-foot-tall (183 m) tower. Based on technology demonstrated in the Solar Two project, the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne designs store the solar energy as heat using liquefied molten salt.

The molten salt is circulated into the receiver where it is heated to around 1,000-degrees Fahrenheit (538 degrees Celsius) before being stored in a large insulated tank. Because the molten salt can be stored for days with little heat loss, it is available on demand - at night or on cloudy days - to be pumped to a steam generator to produce steam and drive a standard turbine to generate electricity 24 hours a day.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne has granted a worldwide exclusive license for its molten salt power tower and heliostat technologies to Los Angeles-based solar energy company SolarReserve, which is looking to construct CSP tower plants in California, Nevada and Spain, with a combined output of 300 MW.

As part of the DoE contract, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne will strive to lower costs and increase CSP Tower capacity by optimizing system performance and efficiency. It doesn't provide specifics as to how it will achieve this, only saying it will, "use advanced manufacturing techniques that better absorb energy into the receiver; develop a higher-performance, lower-cost second-generation heliostat system; and incorporate a new thermal storage system."

"This award is a key step in reducing the cost of solar power to levels competitive with fossil fuel-based power without the need for federal tax incentives," said Randy Parsley, manager, Global Program Development, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. "We are honored to have been selected."

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
10 Comments

Using molten salt is an idea of the Italian Nobel Prof. Carlo Rubbia, a working concentration solar power plant has been built in Sicily last year.

Giuseppe Picciuca
24th June, 2011 @ 05:17 am PDT

With nuclear's cost efficiency of over a hundred to one over 'alternative energy', solar and especially wind experiments have succeeded only in proving that emotionally-guided strategies painted green just don't generate much power.

Looking backwards to pedaling, wind and sun makes luddite greenies feel warm and fuzzy. But it's time for them to adapt their thinking instead of making us all adapt to theirs. Gigantic swaths of land are permanently spoiled by the vast complexes required for wind and solar, requiring over a thousand to one footprint over nuclear - which hasn't killed or injured anyone in the US - or even Japan.

Nuclear isn't cool, doesn't get chicks when you talk about it, and makes people hate you on comment threads. That darn future technology stuff.

Todd Dunning
24th June, 2011 @ 09:38 am PDT

Todd Dunning is so predictable. Another pro-nuclear argument, and a preemptive one, at that. Nobody has died because of nuclear power. Right. Even the Russian and Ukrainian governments admit that the number of people who will die because of radiation released from Chernobyl will approach five figures.

Giuseppe, Rubbia supposedly began development in 2001. But the Solar Two tower in California used molten salt in 1995, and obviously planning and design predated that by a few more years.

Gadgeteer
24th June, 2011 @ 04:20 pm PDT

When you say efficiencies over solar and other types of generation electricity, are you taking into cost the waste and the security cost for thousands of years to come?

Mac Sharry Gerard
25th June, 2011 @ 11:32 am PDT

The U.S. taxpayer should not be subsidizing businesses selected by bureaucrats. The name for that is: Fascism, which is one type of Socialism. Communism is the other. Both are bad. They don't work. Capitalism works. It requires no transfer of wealth by involuntary means. If a company has a better idea, they will raise the R & D capital. They and their investors take the risk to get the profit. That's the American way. Or it used to be before the U.S. began to emulate Europe. This all started with government run businesses like the post office and utility monopolies. When will people learn?

voluntaryist
25th June, 2011 @ 11:12 pm PDT

Game changers are in energy storage systems are not in transference energy from A(fission) to B(water) to C(magnetic field consumption). My sister had an idea to use ice to cool down a room after the freezer removed the heat in the water that was dispersed into the room. Without energy consumption in obtaining more energy would be magical to the rest of us. The energy stored in the hydrogen part of that water vapor could be used without the need of the turbine. Cellaenergy has a safe enough method of the storage of energy into B(hydrogen) on site from A(solar energy) collectors or A(sun) to B(wind) to D(magnetic field consumption) to C(hydrogen). By bonding hydride in the absence of oxygen. Diminished hydrogen bonding to oxygen would create water.

If one were to create a wormhole to pierce the wall of Black Hole and have access to an enormousness amount of condensed energy could eliminate some go between aspects energy usage requirements. Most likely would result in an uncontrollable venting to the point ware there is enough mass that would fall back on it's self and slow the further expulsion from the source output from the wormhole.

Robert DuBois
26th June, 2011 @ 04:20 pm PDT

Solar Energy through Molten Salt route is catching up.

JA
27th June, 2011 @ 07:12 am PDT

The footprint of these solar tower systems is irrelevant when placed in desert landscape environments. They are extremely well suited to much of southern and western USA, Spain, Africa, Australia, China the list goes on. The footprint of a nuclear power plant is effectively permanent. The worst kind of litter.

Daniel Humphries
28th June, 2011 @ 04:35 pm PDT

I happen to live in one of those desert environments. Considering the cost of construction, security, waste removal and storage, how can that Luddite, Todd Dunning, even begin to suggest that nuclear power comes anywhere near practical? How last century can he get. He must be working for the nuclear industry or just listening to those talk radio geniuses. As for the permanent spoiling of the landscape, give me a break. Ten miles outside of your town, what do you want? A massive concrete containment building that costs millions and will forever be a super-secure warehouse for radioactive materials, or, would you prefer the equivalent of large cotton plantation's worth of heliostats? Believe me, around my town, if there was enough water, we would have ploughed up the desert for agriculture years ago. Planting solar panels, heliostats or the like would NOT be a problem. Let's get on with it and to you corporate hacks: stop lying for that status quo money.

fleming
30th June, 2011 @ 03:51 pm PDT

Am I the only one to realize you don’t need to have tracking on the mirrors if you have tracking on the Focal Point?

Put in your mirrors; mount them on concrete forms, row after row after row of concrete arcs.

The Sun comes up, and the focus point is over THERE to the West. As the Sun rises, the focal point regresses West to East.

All you need is your Focal Point to hit the heat collector.

Which would be mounted on railroad tracks on it’s own concrete form and glide from West to East during the day with flexible coolant lines running to it.

William Carr
2nd July, 2014 @ 07:49 am PDT
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