What is supercritical solar steam?

21.08.14 By

Apart from being a tongue-twister, it’s got scientists so excited they’re comparing it to breaking the sound barrier. Find out why.

This article was originally published in Renew Economy.

An ARENA-backed, CSIRO-developed solar thermal demonstration project has notched up a significant win for the technology, generating the highest temperature steam ever produced using energy from the sun.

The world-first achievement at the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle, NSW, has been hailed as a game changing breakthrough for renewables, demonstrating solar’s potential to power steam turbines equivalent to those currently used by advanced coal-fired plants.

‘‘Instead of relying on burning fossil fuels to produce supercritical steam, this breakthrough demonstrates that the power plants of the future could instead be using the free, zero-emission energy of the sun to achieve the same result,’’ said CSIRO’s energy director, Alex Wonhas.

The $5.7 million project (to which ARENA contributed $2.8 million) is part of a broader collaboration with leading solar thermal developer Abengoa Solar to advance solar storage and deliver renewable electricity around the clock.

Comprising two test plants – which concentrate light from 600 mirrors into receiver towers where water is heated to produce steam that drives turbines – it has shown it is possible for solar thermal generated supercritical steam to reach temperatures of up to 570°C and pressure of 23.5 megapascals.

Project leader Robbie McNaughton says his team now plans to do more testing, under even more extreme conditions, to see how far they can push the technology.

“Achieving the critical combination of high pressure and high temperature is a giant step,” said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht on Tuesday. “It demonstrates solar energy has the potential to effectively power the steam turbines currently used by advanced coal-fired plants.

“In addition to being a renewable energy world first, this landmark development stands to deliver greater plant efficiency as well as advance a diverse energy future for Australia.”

This article was originally published in Renew Economy. Continue reading here.