Sunlight and natural gas form new energy source

Scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have created a process that combines solar energy and natural gas to produce electricity on a large scale.

Scientists at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have created a process that combines solar energy and natural gas to generate large quantities of electricity.

Project Leader Dr Greg Duffy said: ‘Our research has proven that this technology will work. The more backing we receive from acknowledged experts, the easier it will be to persuade industry to implement the technology.’

The centrepiece of the project is a solar thermal concentrating dish, designed and constructed by Solar Systems Pty Ltd. Arrays of mirrors focus the suns rays onto a reactor to create steam. The steam in turn reacts with naturally occurring methane gas to produce a high-energy gas (syngas), with up to 40 per cent of its energy content being embodied solar energy.

The challenges that faced CSIRO in this project were mechanical and chemical engineering related, Dr Duffy said. ‘The dish had to be modified significantly, both for optimal solar-thermal performance and for safety in high winds.

‘The reactor had to be scaled to enable it to match the solar delivery from the dish and the flow rates of gas and water. The reactor also had to sit at the focus of the dish and move with it as it tracked the sun.

‘The reactor has successfully accommodated a wide range of conditions and consistently produces a high quality syngas.’

The technology will make use of two of Australia’s most abundant energy resources – sunlight and natural gas. It can produce syngas or hydrogen, both of which are suitable for electricity generation. Syngas can also be mixed with natural gas and delivered via the existing pipeline for use in conventional gas appliances.

If hydrogen is produced, the system creates the opportunity to separate the carbon dioxide, so it can be safely re-buried underground.

‘We are now working on bringing together interested parties to demonstrate the technology at an industrial scale,’ said Dr Adrian Williams, Chief of CSIRO Energy Technology.

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