Natural gas power plants can use about 20 percent less fuel when the sun is shining by injecting solar energy into natural gas with a new system being developed by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The system converts natural gas and sunlight into a more energy-rich fuel called syngas, which power plants can burn to make electricity.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
PNNL’s concentrating solar power system for natural gas power plants, installed on a mirrored parabolic dish.
“Our system will enable power plants to use less natural gas to produce the same amount of electricity they already make,” said PNNL engineer Bob Wegeng, who is leading the project. “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.”
PNNL will conduct field tests of the system at its sunny campus in Richland, Wash., this summer.
With the U.S. increasingly relying on inexpensive natural gas for energy, this system can reduce the carbon footprint of power generation. DOE’s Energy Information Administration estimates natural gas will make up 27 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2020. Wegeng noted PNNL’s system is best suited for power plants located in sunshine-drenched areas such as the American Southwest.
Installing PNNL’s system in front of natural gas power plants turns them into hybrid solar-gas power plants. The system uses solar heat to convert natural gas into syngas, a fuel containing hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Because syngas has a higher energy content, a power plant equipped with the system can consume about 20 percent less natural gas while producing the same amount of electricity.
This decreased fuel usage is made possible with concentrating solar power, which uses a reflecting surface to concentrate the sun’s rays like a magnifying glass. PNNL’s system uses a mirrored parabolic dish to direct sunbeams to a central point, where a PNNL-developed device absorbs the solar heat to make syngas.
The heat exchanger features narrower channels that are a couple times thicker than a strand of human hair. The exchanger’s channels help recycle heat left over from the chemical reaction gas. By reusing the heat, solar energy is used more efficiently to convert natural gas into syngas. Tests on an earlier prototype of the device showed more than 60 percent of the solar energy that hit the system’s mirrored dish was converted into chemical energy contained in the syngas.Lower-carbon cousin to traditional power plants
Wegeng’s team aims to keep the system’s overall cost low enough so that the electricity produced by a natural gas power plant equipped with the system would cost no more than 6 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2020. Such a price tag would make hybrid solar-gas power plants competitive with conventional, fossil fuel-burning power plants while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The system is adaptable to a large range of natural gas power plant sizes. The number of PNNL devices needed depends on a particular power plant’s size. For example, a 500 MW plant would need roughly 3,000 dishes equipped with PNNL’s device.
Unlike many other solar technologies, PNNL’s system doesn’t require power plants to cease operations when the sun sets or clouds cover the sky. Power plants can bypass the system and burn natural gas directly.
Though outside the scope of the current project, Wegeng also envisions a day when PNNL’s solar-driven system could be used to create transportation fuels. Syngas can also be used to make synthetic crude oil, which can be refined into diesel and gasoline than runs our cars.
The current project is receiving about $4.3 million combined from DOE’s SunShot Initiative, which aims to advance American-made solar technologies, and industrial partner SolarThermoChemical LLC of Santa Maria, Calif. SolarThermoChemcial has a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement for the project and plans to manufacture and sell the system after the project ends.More information about PNNL’s concentrating solar power system for natural gas power plants is at http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/sunshot/csp_sunshotrnd_pnnl.html.
REFERENCE: RS Wegeng, DR Palo, RA Dagle, PH Humble, JA Lizarazo-Adarme, SK, SD Leith, CJ Pestak, S Qiu, B Boler, J Modrell, G McFadden, “Development and Demonstration of a Prototype Solar Methane Reforming System for Thermochemical Energy Storage -- Including Preliminary Shakedown Testing Results,” 9th Annual International Energy Conversion Engineering Conference, July-August 2011, http://arc.aiaa.org/doi/abs/10.2514/6.2011-5899
Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. PNNL employs 4,500 staff, has an annual budget of nearly $1 billion, and has been managed for the U.S. Department of Energy by Ohio-based Battelle since the laboratory's inception in 1965. For more information, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Franny White | Newswise
Improved stability of plastic light-emitting diodes
19.04.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Polymerforschung
Intelligent components for the power grid of the future
18.04.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.
Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...
In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
20.04.2018 | Health and Medicine
20.04.2018 | Materials Sciences
20.04.2018 | Earth Sciences