CSIRO is developing a revolutionary power supply for Australia¹s communities -- a hybrid solar/fossil fuel system that runs at up to twice the efficiency of today¹s coal-fired electricity generators.
The goal of the $4.8 million special project is to combine available and emerging energy technologies in an innovative way which is capable of virtually eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.
The coordinator of CSIRO¹s Energy Sector, Dr John Wright, says the demonstration project will aim to produce about 20 kilowatts of electric power, and be in a form that can be scaled up and used both in distributed power systems and large centralised generation to supply industry, cities and communities with cleaner energy.
"Over the coming six months we will undertake a feasibility study to look at the systems design of the whole process. We need to fully define the engineering concepts, the availability of components and how we will integrate them.
"If that goes to plan we envisage moving to acquire and link the required technologies and develop the solar re-forming work. This re-forming will convert solar energy to chemical energy, enabling it to be stored and transported," he says.
"We will only be able to assess the potential implications of the project on Australia¹s energy market once the project is well advanced and we have some performance data."
CSIRO¹s solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology (being developed by Ceramic Fuel Cells Ltd), as well as other fuel cell systems will be used in the demonstration project. Because of the high temperature of their exhaust gases, fuel cells allow the cogeneration of electricity and heat. Used in combination with microturbines, they can achieve electric power conversion efficiencies approaching 70 per cent compared with 35 per cent for a coal-fired power station.
Fuel cells or fuel cell/microturbine systems can operate on hydrogen derived from natural gas or coal. The unique aspect of this project is that it introduces solar thermal power into the equation.
High temperature solar thermal energy can re-form gas (methane) to increase its energy content by some 20-30%, with no increase in greenhouse emissions. This involves generating a fuel gas which is a combination of carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
The hydrogen will be used to power a fuel cell or a fuel cell/microturbine combined cycle system, while the carbon dioxide will be recovered in concentrated form as a necessary step in any scheme for its ultimate use or disposal.
The project is one of several which is receiving special funding from CSIRO Executive, aimed at encouraging visionary¹ projects.
The Chief Executive of CSIRO, Dr Malcolm McIntosh, says that the Special Projects have been selected because they are at the cutting edge of knowledge in various fields, and offer the prospect of significant payoff for Australia within a reasonably short time-frame.
The projects also reinforce the commitment of CSIRO to basic and strategic, knowledge-generating science, he says.