DOE Breaks Ground on Concentrating Solar Power Facility in New Mexico
The U.S. Department of Energy has announced that it has broken ground on the Generation 3 Particle Pilot Plant (G3P3), a concentrating solar-thermal pilot project, at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The project will showcase concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technology, which could be useful for various clean energy purposes, from producing power to providing long-term energy storage.
“Next-generation CSP has the potential to be a game-changer,” Alejandro Moreno, acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the Department of Energy, said in a statement. “This pilot facility will demonstrate how CSP systems can meet the challenges of providing long-duration energy storage while reducing costs and complexity for solar thermal technology. At the same time, it also provides a pathway to commercialization for industrial process heat.”
The Generation 3 CSP research began in 2017, with the Department of Energy seeking innovations for high-temperature plants. Existing commercial plants typically concentrate sunlight with mirrors to heat molten salt, but these plants reach only 565°C. The Generation 3 CSP research sought out technologies that could reach 720°C.
With the research findings, the Department of Energy settled on technology that uses sand-like ceramic bauxite particles, which can withstand temperatures over 800°C, rather than molten salt. The ceramic bauxite particles can transfer and store heat or power a supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) turbine, according to the Department of Energy.
Sandia National Laboratories explained that the ceramic bauxite particles are inside the receiver of a tower. With the falling particle receiver, the particles are dropped into a cavity, and a concentrated sunlight beam heats the particles. The particles can then be stored or used immediately with the sCO2 technology for electricity generation. The particles can also be lifted, dropped and reheated after they have cooled.
If the pilot is successful, it could demonstrate a new type of solar power plant with the capacity to constantly provide 100 megawatts at a low cost and meet the goal of providing CSP electricity-plus-storage at $0.05/kWh, POWER Magazine reported.
“Particle-based systems need relatively few high-cost materials to collect and transport thermal energy. These factors could increase plant availability and reliability and enable simpler plant construction and commissioning,” the Department of Energy stated.
Sandia National Laboratories was selected to develop the CSP pilot project, receiving $25 million to build and operate the plant. The plant is expected to be completed in 2024, and the technology showcased in the pilot could play an important part in reaching the Biden administration’s goal of transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2050.