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
Producing electricity during flight
20.09.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Solar-to-fuel system recycles CO2 to make ethanol and ethylene
19.09.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy