The CSIRO is describing research at its Newcastle energy centre as a game-changer for the renewable energy industry.
Researchers have used solar energy to generate hot and pressurised ‘supercritical’ steam at the highest temperatures ever achieved outside of fossil sources.
Supercritical solar steam is water pressurised at enormous force and heated using solar radiation.
Around 90 per cent of Australia’s electricity is generated using fossil fuel, but only a small number of power stations are based on the more advanced supercritical steam.
The world record set at the CSIRO’s Energy Centre in Newcastle this month, was at a pressure of 23.5 megapascals and temperatures up to 570 degrees Celsius.
Project leader, Robbie McNaughton says it is the combination of pressure and temperature demonstrated at scale, that makes it such a breakthrough for solar power.
He says the development means one day the sun could be used to drive power stations instead of coal or gas.
“Well certainly that’s what we’d like to think,” he said.
“It’s important to remember that what we’ve done is really the first step along a fairly long path still in demonstrating that we can actually do these things with solar technologies.”
CSIRO’s Energy Director, Dr Alex Wonhas says the milestone is a game-changer for the industry.
“It’s like breaking the sound barrier,” he said.
“This step change proves solar has the potential to compete with the peak performance capabilities of fossil fuel sources.”
The $9.7 million research program is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht says although more work is needed before the technology is ready for commercialisation, it is an important breakthrough and demonstrates the importance of research and development.
Mr Frischknecht says it brings solar thermal energy a step closer to cost competitiveness with fossil fuel generated power.
CSIRO Newcastle solar breakthrough for supercritical steamSource: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-03/csiro-newcastle-solar-breakthrough-for-supercritical-steam/5495744