Using Solar Technology to Boost Natural Gas Plants Efficiency

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Solar technology has incredible potential and it’s being applied in a diversity based manner by a Department of Energy Laboratory. In this venture, natural gas power stations are being converted to hybrid solar plants. Similar to the solar shingles technology, this is worthwhile innovation.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is working on a device which has dimensions nearly four feet in length and two feet in width. Apart from that, it also features a chemical reactor in combination with heat exchangers.

The principle behind this is that when sunlight is focused to form a concentrated beam, this concentrated beam is used to heat the reactor’s channels. Within these channels, natural gas is flowing and it has a catalyst to turn the conventional gas into ‘syngas’. The advantage of syngas is that it’s more efficient in terms of energy.

The feasibility of such a system stands corrected on the account that it could produce 20 to 25% more efficiency. The solar panels generate steam to a temperature of 700oC.

This means that if more energy could be harnessed by the natural gas content, there would be less natural gas required for production. The overall impact would result in the reduction of carbon footprint. The level of CO2 production is reduced by 20% and in the same way, 20% less methane would be required.

This project that is being led by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory would carry out practical demonstrations in the South West area of US on the account that the weather is hot over there.

A related goal of the project is to bring hybrid solar gas power plant in competition with the conventional fossil fuel plants so their applicability is enhanced.

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Contracts related to commercialization of solar energy are complicated in nature. There are a number of legal as well as management based modalities involved, but new tools like contract management are helping to streamline the process. As a result of a variety of new infrastructure changes like this, scientists have also expressed hope that the ‘syngas’ project would be commercialized within a three year span.

Long term applications would move towards the chemical industry as well. The important property of syngas is that it can be used to make synthetic crude oil. This oil can further be refined to produce transportation fuels, enhancing the use.

For producing 500 Mw, nearly 300 dishes that include the device would be needed. The economic advantage would be available if the production process goes underway at a low cost. Since the process produces more efficiency from fuel, it has one end covered.

The first field tests for the device are expected to be carried in the coming months in Richland, Washington. Previous experiments have shown that the prototype device could convert 60% incident solar energy to chemical energy. It was used to produce syngas.

A lot of research is now being done as to how solar energy can be used in combination with other technology. Recently, there have been experiments related to the use of nanotechnology to make solar panels that can absorb all wavelengths from sunlight. This technology has already been tested out on high speed communications with good results.

The solar-gas hybrid plant is a worthwhile venture which is better placed in the commercialization of renewable fuels. The interest from the military side is also driving the government labs to do the possible research for solar energy.

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