Ways of developing solar energy for large-scale electricity generation are being sought by energy company E.ON, which has made €6m (£5.4m) available to stimulate research projects.

The power and gas group is calling for proposals from universities and scientific organisations worldwide that aim to exploit concentrating solar power (CSP) to harness the vast renewable-energy resources of the sun’s rays that are available in some regions of the world.

E.ON is inviting grant applications to develop the improved heat-storage technologies that are critical to CSP.

It will also consider highly original projects that facilitate better or alternative ways for CSP to store thermal energy captured from the sun, or are innovative in expanding the future role of CSP.

This call is the third put forward under E.ON’s International Research Initiative (IRI), which is a 10-year programme backed by a total of €60m (£54m) in grant awards.

E.ON’s choice of CSP as a research topic comes from the belief that it will play a major role in future renewable electricity generation.

The research envisages solar-thermal power stations in which CSP collects the sun’s rays to heat a fluid or solid material, which provides energy for steam generators to produce electricity.

Crucially, the storage capability of CSP can support security of supply. Stored energy can provide power around the clock, including during darkness, overcoming the intermittency in some forms of renewable energy that rely on the presence of sun or wind.

Areas that are important for the development of existing heat-storage systems for CSP are the storage medium, materials and insulation of storage tanks and the integration and optimisation of overall CSP systems.

CSP issues that need to be investigated are scalability, economic feasibility, health and safety and integration, taking account of temperatures, energy capacities, discharging profiles and response times.

Alternative CSP technologies may be latent heat storage - using phase-change materials - and heat storage by means of reversible chemical reactions.

The two previous rounds of IRI award funding took place in 2007 and 2008. 10 research projects are under way to develop energy-storage systems that will increase the role of renewable resources in providing electricity.

A further nine projects have begun looking at the use of nanotechnology in the energy industry. These are investigating how molecular-scale innovation can improve energy production, conversion and storage.

The current research call is open until late February 2010.  Details of the grant application process are at www.eon.com/research_initiative