A new technology that adds solar energy to existing gas-fired power plants promises to cut fuel use by 20%.
Researchers at the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) claims their system (pictured) converts natural gas and sunlight into a more “energy-rich fuel” called syngas, which power plants can burn to generate electricity.
The system uses a mirrored parabolic dish to direct sunlight on to a device containing a chemical reactor and several heat exchangers. The concentrated solar power heats up the natural gas flowing through the reactor’s channels where it is converted to syngas while the heat exchangers recycle heat left over from the reaction.
PNNL Engineer Bob Wegeng, who is leading the project said: “Our system will enable power plants to use less natural gas to produce the same amount of electricity they already make. At the same time, the system lowers a power plant’s greenhouse gas emissions at a cost that’s competitive with traditional fossil fuel power.”
The researchers claim the device could be installed alongside existing natural gas power plants to create what they call ‘hybrid solar-gas plants’. They are now working to develop cheaper manufacturing techniques for the system in a bid to drive down the costs of electricity production.