Renewable energy is undoubtedly the most reliable source of energy, but is it equally cost-effective?
Well, the answer is yes. Until last month, commercial solar power plants were trying to improve their efficiency to match the energy output of non-renewable sources and become a viable replacement to fossil fuels.
With the innovation and development of new products that can absorb and exchange heat at higher temperatures, commercial solar power plants are looking forward to increase the efficiency of generating electricity by 20%.
Let’s have a sneak peak…
Solar panels found in commercial solar power plants are massive and absorb maximum thermal energy from the sun as they possibly can. This thermal energy is then channelled into a fluid-filled converter called the heat exchanger. The liquid version of carbon dioxide, called supercritical CO2, acts as the medium in the energy conversion. The hotter the fluid, the more electricity is produced.
This is one of the latest technologies used these days. It not only lowers electricity and manufacturing costs, but also promises greater efficiency for future power plants.
The Loop Hole
According to an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Texas A&M University, Dorrin Jarrahbashi, the current metal used in the construction of heat exchangers with supercritical CO2 are only stable up to 550° Celsius. If the heat rises above 550°, the components begin to break down and lose their effectiveness. Ultimately, they need a replacement.
To combat this problem, researchers have created a new composite material, which is a combination of ceramic and tungsten. It is a refractory metal that can withstand temperatures over 750° Celsius. This latest innovation in heat absorption can help increase the efficiency of generating electricity in integrated solar and supercritical CO2 power plants by 20%.
The durability and low production cost of this refractory metal can help cut down the expense of constructing and maintaining power plants. With the unique mechanical, chemical and thermal characteristics of this metal, the applications for the composite are numerous. This innovation can lend a hand from safely upgrading nuclear power plants to constructing rocket nozzles and a lot more into the future of research and industry.
Using this material for manufacturing heat exchangers is undoubtedly a crucial step towards reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the fight against fossil fuel power plants.
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