Hooray! Three new CSIRO solar research projects funded (part 3)

The support the Australian Solar Institute (ASI) provides to solar research in Australia has meant it’s now possible for three new CSIRO solar research projects to go ahead. What are they, I hear you say? Glad you asked. In this three-part post I’ll share the project descriptions from the ASI website, followed by my own explaination.

Project 3: Evaluation and demonstration of hybridisation of CST with carbon capture and storage

ASI contribution: $667,500
Total project value: $1,855,000
Partners: Delta Electricity
Summary: This project will examine the techno-economic feasibility of utilising concentrated solar thermal (CST) energy for the thermal regeneration of liquid absorbents in carbon capture and storage systems employed on coal fired power stations. The project aims to develop a new solar thermal reboiler for post combustion capture plants and a novel storage solution for low emissions energy. It also involves testing this reboiler and storage solution at a CSIRO operated carbon capture pilot plant located at Delta Electricity’s Vales Point Station in NSW. It involves a major electricity generator in the economic study and analysis of integration issues for CST plants with conventional energy generation technologies.

Solar and coal – can they work together?

Solar@CSIRO explains: Pure, 100% solar-thermal-generated electricity is one of the technologies we’re working to improve here at CSIRO Newcastle, but it’s not yet being used on a large scale for power production in Australia. What are being used on a large scale at the moment are coal-fired power stations – about 80% of our electricity is generated this way as a matter of fact. Wouldn’t it be nice and easy if we could just continue with the status quo but somehow make a lot of the carbon dioxide it produces go away?

A PCC plant is a collection of pipework and processes that gets ‘plugged in’ to the end of a coal fired power station to capture the carbon dioxide.

This is the idea (and the enticement) of Post-Combustion Capture. A PCC plant is a collection of pipework and processes that gets ‘plugged in’ to the end of a coal fired power station to capture the carbon dioxide. Instead of the gases from the burned coal going straight up the flue and into the atmosphere, they’d be passed through a solvent first (usually an amine) that absorbs most of the carbon dioxide but lets the other gases pass through. Eventually, however, the solvent gets saturated and can absorb no more CO2. This is when it gets pumped to the next stage – the regenerator – where it’s heated up so the CO2 can be released again and collected (and ideally stored somewhere safe where we never have to think about it again – but that’s a whole other area of research and development).

This regenerator, however, uses a lot of energy to run – about a quarter of everything the original coal power station makes, actually – meaning that if we wanted to end up with the same amount of electricity going into the grid we’d have to build one new power station for every four we retrofitted. This is one of the known issues with current PCC technology. The CSIRO Post-Combustion Capture group is doing a lot of research, in a lot of different areas, to try and overcome all these issues. But one way the solar group might be able to contribute our expertise is by supplying some or all of the heat energy the regenerator needs – from the sun.

This regenerator uses a lot of energy to run – about a quarter of everything the original coal power station makes, actually … One way the solar group might be able to contribute our expertise is by supplying some or all of the heat energy the regenerator needs – from the sun.

This project will see CSIRO partner with Delta Electricity to, firstly, crunch the numbers to work out whether it’s practically and economically worthwhile to ‘solarise’ PCC in this way. Secondly, we’re going to design and build a small solar trough plant to regenerate PCC solvents, and hook it up to CSIRO’s existing truck-sized PCC pilot plant at Vales Point Power Station near Newcastle.

If the project’s successful it’ll be the world’s first practical demonstration of pilot scale PCC integrated with solar energy. It could also be a good way for solar thermal energy technology to get a boost up the economy-of-scale wall: if lots of solar thermal collectors get built for PCC purposes, they will become cheaper to make overall, which will also help 100%-solar projects bring their costs down and hence become more competitive.

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Part 1Part 2



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