Researchers generate pressurised 'supercritical' steam, at the highest temperatures ever achieved using solar energy

Jun 03, 2014 by Nicholas Kachel
CSIRO Solar tower 1 creating solar steam.

(Phys.org) —Supercritical steam is a breakthrough for solar energy and means that one day the sun could be used to drive the most advanced power stations in the world, currently only driven by coal or gas.

CSIRO's Energy Director, Dr Alex Wonhas said this milestone is a game-changer for the renewable energy industry.

"It's like breaking the sound barrier; this step change proves solar has the potential to compete with the peak performance capabilities of fossil fuel sources.

"Instead of relying on burning to produce supercritical steam, this breakthrough demonstrates that the power plants of the future could instead be using the free, zero emission energy of the sun to achieve the same result," Dr Wonhas said.

Supercritical solar steam is water pressurised at enormous force and heated using solar radiation. Around 90 per cent of Australia's electricity is generated using fossil fuel, but only a small number of power stations are based on the more advanced supercritical steam.

The world record, set in May this year, was at a pressure of 23.5 megapascals (a measure of force per unit area), and temperatures up to 570 degrees Celsius. It is the combination of pressure and temperature demonstrated at scale that makes this such a breakthrough for solar power.

CSIRO Solar tower 2 in operation.

Commercial plants around the world use subcritical steam, operating at similar temperatures but at lower pressure. If these plants were able to move to supercritical steam, it would increase the efficiency and help to lower the cost of solar electricity.

The $5.68 million research program is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and is part of a broader collaboration with Abengoa Solar, the largest supplier of solar thermal electricity in the world. CSIRO and Abengoa Solar, with support from ARENA, are developing advanced solar storage to provide solar electricity at any time, day or night.

The breakthrough was made at the CSIRO Energy Centre, Newcastle, home to Australia's low emission and research. The Centre includes two solar thermal test plants featuring more than 600 mirrors (heliostats) directed at two towers housing solar receivers and turbines.

Although there is still work to be done before this technology is ready for commercialisation, ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht acknowledged the significant achievement saying it demonstrates the importance of research and development.

"This breakthrough brings solar thermal energy a step closer to cost competitiveness with fossil fuel generated power," said Mr Frischknecht.

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tadchem
1.6 / 5 (7) Jun 03, 2014
Supercritical fluid extraction using steam would also be a boon to the petrochemical industry as it would reduce or eliminate the need for additives in the water used for fracking.
t_i_m92
1 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2014
Sounds awesome, but I can't imagine it. Anyone knows for how many household it can supply power?
marko
4.5 / 5 (11) Jun 03, 2014
It won't be long before Tony Abbott - Australias redneck Prime Minister -axes this project.

Centres of R&D excellence and Climate Change initiatives will be cut due to recent widespread ideological anti-intellectual budget cuts.

Anyone want some cheap world class australian scientists and engineers.
Scottingham
1.7 / 5 (3) Jun 03, 2014
Supercritical steam is a misnomer...it is no longer a gas or a liquid, but has properties of both.
igneous_11
5 / 5 (5) Jun 03, 2014
Supercritical steam is a misnomer...it is no longer a gas or a liquid, but has properties of both.

Although perhaps not the wording one would see in a textbook, I would bet dollars to donunt that is the wording they use in the industry. Regardless, it is a bit pedantic to go around pointing out minor rhetorical errors.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (10) Jun 03, 2014
Anyone want some cheap world class australian scientists and engineers.


If they're nuclear engineers we'll take 'em. You can keep the ones who build windmills....
Osiris1
3 / 5 (3) Jun 03, 2014
No big mystery, supercriticality is high temperature fluid usually contained in some kind of vessel be it pipe, tank, or whatever...with a temp higher than the critical point of a given material at a given pressure. The critical point is itself a dependent variable with temperature and pressure and composition, for instance, being among the independant variables.

This writer finds such systems that 'boil fluids' must contain moving parts somewhere, or have exothermic reactions with containment vessels or both. Far better to have systems with no moving parts, such as photo-voltaic systems. Such maintainance free systems have been used in space for years because governments know simple truth that simple is best.
This is also why fusion reactors which can develope power electrohydrodynamically in traveling wave harvesters would make very good space propulsion with minimal mass loss and have side benefit of energy production for the ship and mission involved.
Caliban
4.7 / 5 (11) Jun 03, 2014
Supercritical fluid extraction using steam would also be a boon to the petrochemical industry as it would reduce or eliminate the need for additives in the water used for fracking


It would also -more to the point- eliminate the need for fossil fuel production in the first place.

The "supercritical" thing one needs to understand is that this is a FLUID DENSE IN POTENTIAL ENERGY, which has been passively generated via solar concentration --no fossil or nuclear energy generation required, and thus, no pollution generated to produce the energy.

Obviously, this supercritical steam -or energetic fluid- can then be used to run a turbine to produce electricity, or be diverted to mechanically drive machinery, aka -steam engines.

Once the cost of deploying and maintaining this gnerating tech has been deducted, we are talking about the dreaded

FREE, RENEWABLE, NON-POLLUTING, (somewhat)SCALABLE energy.

What are you people moaning about?



jrsm
not rated yet Jun 03, 2014
This may be a more efficient way of storing potential energy than other processes using an insulated pressure vessel.
24volts
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 03, 2014
While supercritical steam can be more efficient running turbines it also makes the plant a lot more expensive to build and maintain. It's a serious tradeoff there in economics to build one of those type plants versus a regular superheated steam plant and get it going. A lot more money involved so it really needs to be a BIG steam plant.
a_n_k_u_r
1 / 5 (3) Jun 04, 2014
If supercritical steam was such a big deal, why didn't they use the solar power in combination with coal? Use solar power as much as you can to take the temp/pressure of the steam to whatever max is possible, then heat it more with coal.
hangman04
not rated yet Jun 04, 2014
Atm Siemens is building supercritical steam power plants powered by coal ranging from 600 to 800 MW since 2000, so the know how exists. the only challenge is to adapt solar to it.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (5) Jun 04, 2014
What are you people moaning about?


Welcome to our world...

http://en.wikiped...ath_toll
http://en.wikiped...ccidents

Simple hysterics...
tadchem
5 / 5 (5) Jun 04, 2014
Supercritical steam is a misnomer...it is no longer a gas or a liquid, but has properties of both.

It is called supercritical because its temperature is above the critical point.
It is called steam because calling it 'water' would be erroneous and confusing.
tadchem
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 04, 2014
What are you people moaning about?


Welcome to our world...

http://en.wikiped...ath_toll

Simple hysterics...


The use of pressurized containers of steam is not without its own perils:
http://en.wikiped...plosions
24volts
4.8 / 5 (5) Jun 04, 2014
Yes, they are dangerous but considering that over the last 300 years or so that is a very small list considering all the boilers in operation since then. Also most of the ones before 1900 you can pretty much blame on low quality materials. Metallurgy has come a long way in the last 100 years.
rockwolf1000
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 04, 2014
What are you people moaning about?


Welcome to our world...

http://en.wikiped...ath_toll

Simple hysterics...


Nuclear power eh?

"In 2008, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works found that failure to perform to contractual requirements could cost taxpayers up to $11 billion by 2020.[77] In 2013 this estimate of taxpayer liability was raised to $21 billion." (wiki)

That's just some of the costs for Yucca Mountain. And that's but one waste facility that will never open.

Add in the costs of nuclear power plant production and decommissioning and uranium mining and processing and you see the real price of nuclear power. We could build lot's of solar plants with that money with hardly any of the risk to people and the environment.

We've had nuclear technology for less than a century, yet we are creating waste that will be dangerous for thousands of years.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (4) Jun 04, 2014
We've had nuclear technology for less than a century, yet we are creating waste that will be dangerous for thousands of years.


This is a red herring, and has been from the start. 99% of the actinides can be used as fuel again. In fact you have to build light water reactors just to burn the fuel you CREATE in the cycle if you use breeder reactors. This is a non issue if we would rescind our idiotic policy of not recycling "spent" fuel (thank you Jimmuh Cattah).

But I'm sure somehow 13th century technology hooked up to a generator will somehow work out for all the power the world will need in the next hundred years.....
rockwolf1000
4.5 / 5 (8) Jun 04, 2014
We've had nuclear technology for less than a century, yet we are creating waste that will be dangerous for thousands of years.


This is a red herring, and has been from the start. 99% of the actinides can be used as fuel again. In fact you have to build light water reactors just to burn the fuel you CREATE in the cycle if you use breeder reactors. This is a non issue if we would rescind our idiotic policy of not recycling "spent" fuel (thank you Jimmuh Cattah).


Oh I see. We just have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to replace every reactor in the world.

"99% of the actinides can be used as fuel again"

What to do with the remaining 1% then. It has to be stored, safely and securely.
There is still lot's of radioactive waste besides the spent fuel.

Why not just invest that money into renewables?
Modernmystic
1.6 / 5 (7) Jun 04, 2014
Oh I see. We just have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to replace every reactor in the world.


No, why would we do that? We'd simply start reprocessing the fuel. Do we have to replace every aluminum can factory in the world because we decide we want to recycle aluminum??

What to do with the remaining 1% then. It has to be stored, safely and securely.
There is still lot's of radioactive waste besides the spent fuel.


Its radioactivity drops by 99.9% within forty years. France stores ALL of theirs in one room in one building....

Why not just invest that money into renewables?


Because you don't have the political support, or the practical plan for scaling, or the capacity, or the economics on your side.

Why not compromise and be done with fossil fuels? Or is this not really about the planet and more about policy?

As an aside a thorium fuel cycle with the use of molten salt reactors is completely without waste and a closed fuel cycle.
rockwolf1000
4 / 5 (8) Jun 04, 2014
@MM

I'm not particularly against nuclear power. I just don't think we're ready for it yet. Chernobyl, Fukushima and 3 Mile Island being cases in point.

Lot's of brilliant engineers and physicists were really sure they had dotted their "I"s and crossed their "T"s and look at the mess they made.

Consider a the Chelyabinsk meteor making it to the ground and hitting a Nuclear plant. What then? Consider a terrorist flying a plane loaded with high explosives into a reactor.
The stakes are just way too high for my liking at this point.
Modernmystic
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 05, 2014
@MM

I'm not particularly against nuclear power. I just don't think we're ready for it yet. Chernobyl, Fukushima and 3 Mile Island being cases in point.

Lot's of brilliant engineers and physicists were really sure they had dotted their "I"s and crossed their "T"s and look at the mess they made.

Consider a the Chelyabinsk meteor making it to the ground and hitting a Nuclear plant. What then? Consider a terrorist flying a plane loaded with high explosives into a reactor.
The stakes are just way too high for my liking at this point.


I totally get it, actually that sounds insulting....I think that I understand where you're coming form. I think I've been where you are on nuclear power. Every point you bring up can and has been addressed in detail, especially with 4th gen reactors. It's just tooooooo complex a subject to adequately go over on the internet. I can say that every accident you referenced is dwarfed by a single hydro accident in China. We're ready, but not "ready"..
Modernmystic
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 05, 2014
One thing that is VERY telling in the nuclear debate is that you can reference that many nuclear adcidents off the top of your head and maybe even a couple more, but virtually no one knows about, nor can even properly pronounce Banqiao Reservoir Dam. They can't tell you that 1/4 of a million people died in that accident because the western press has an EXTREME bias against nuclear power and looooooooooooooves to keep the news cycle going on ignorant pap that scares the crap out of people....

Billions of gallons of water that washes people to their deaths...meh, but eeeviiiilll invisible superscientific particles that can give you cancer and turn your kids into green mutants...man THAT'S news. Even if we lie (not stretch the truth, but actually lie) just a little to make it interesting.

Such is life...
rockwolf1000
3.9 / 5 (7) Jun 05, 2014
One thing that is VERY telling in the nuclear debate is that you can reference that many nuclear adcidents off the top of your head and maybe even a couple more, but virtually no one knows about, nor can even properly pronounce Banqiao Reservoir Dam.
Billions of gallons of water that washes people to their deaths...meh, but eeeviiiilll invisible superscientific particles that can give you cancer and turn your kids into green mutants...man THAT'S news. Even if we lie (not stretch the truth, but actually lie) just a little to make it interesting.

Such is life...


The difference is that if a dam bursts it doesn't contaminate the whole planet the way a melt down does. It's a regional disaster. People can choose not to live below a dam (perhaps not in China) but no one on Earth can escape the effects of nuclear accidents. Even if they live on the other side of the planet. It's a global disaster.

The Chinese don't care about their own citizens. Why would western media care?
Modernmystic
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 05, 2014
The difference is that if a dam bursts it doesn't contaminate the whole planet the way a melt down does.


No they don't. You're entitled to your opinion, but not your own facts.

If you'd take a look at 4th generation reactors you'd see that a meltdown is virtually impossible, you can pull the plug and walk away (in fact they did just that in the 1960s in front of the press with the IFR and then started it right back up afterwards). A meltdown like the one at Chernobyl IS impossible in even the most primitive western reactors in use today, never mind that we can't get approval to build safer ones. This is like spanking a child for playing with knives in a house full of knives and not allowing him to buy any toys...
rockwolf1000
3.7 / 5 (6) Jun 05, 2014

If you'd take a look at 4th generation reactors you'd see that a meltdown is virtually impossible, you can pull the plug and walk away (in fact they did just that in the 1960s in front of the press with the IFR and then started it right back up afterwards). A meltdown like the one at Chernobyl IS impossible in even the most primitive western reactors in use today, never mind that we can't get approval to build safer ones.


I did notice you added a disclaimer "virtually impossible". Now couple that with possible terrorist or war hostilities and you get "anything is possible".

Just because reactors are built to fairly good standards in the US doesn't prevent other countries from building junk. Fact

If the total costs of nuclear power was reflected in the electricity prices they would have never been built. They almost always go over budget in construction and upgrading.

http://ep.probein...-budget/
Modernmystic
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 05, 2014
I did notice you added a disclaimer "virtually impossible". Now couple that with possible terrorist or war hostilities and you get "anything is possible".


Terrorists will simply set off a nuke next time. Thanks to our lax stance with Iran they'll have access to weapons grade uranium. Secondly virtually impossible means just that....of course you could be bitten by a great white shark the first time you go in the ocean, it's just damned unlikely.

Just because reactors are built to fairly good standards in the US doesn't prevent other countries from building junk. Fact


Just because we build solar panels and glorified windmills doesn't mean others will. Demonstrated fact.

If the total costs of nuclear power was reflected in the electricity prices they would have never been built. They almost always go over budget in construction and upgrading.


Yet France has cheaper (50%) energy using 75% nuclear than Germany or Denmark ("renewable havens"). Fact.
rockwolf1000
3.4 / 5 (5) Jun 06, 2014

Terrorists will simply set off a nuke next time. Thanks to our lax stance with Iran they'll have access to weapons grade uranium. Secondly virtually impossible means just that....of course you could be bitten by a great white shark the first time you go in the ocean, it's just damned unlikely.

So technically, virtually impossible is the same as possible right?

Just because we build solar panels and glorified windmills doesn't mean others will. Demonstrated fact.

And??????

Yet France has cheaper (50%) energy using 75% nuclear than Germany or Denmark ("renewable havens"). Fact.


France has a poor record of logical policies. I wouldn't follow their lead anywhere.
Modernmystic
2 / 5 (4) Jun 06, 2014
So technically, virtually impossible is the same as possible right?


Yes. In exactly the same way that a penny and a trillion dollars are both money.

And??????


Which exactly my counter point to your point. Just because others MIGHT or WILL behave badly is no excuse to not do something that makes sense...

France has a poor record of logical policies. I wouldn't follow their lead anywhere.


Well in this case they have a damn good record, decades worth. Therefore in this case I'm inclined to follow their lead based on demonstrated results.
rockwolf1000
4 / 5 (4) Jun 06, 2014
So technically, virtually impossible is the same as possible right?


Yes. In exactly the same way that a penny and a trillion dollars are both money.

And??????


Which exactly my counter point to your point. Just because others MIGHT or WILL behave badly is no excuse to not do something that makes sense...

France has a poor record of logical policies. I wouldn't follow their lead anywhere.


Well in this case they have a damn good record, decades worth. Therefore in this case I'm inclined to follow their lead based on demonstrated results.

Thanks for clearing that up. I like being correct.

You are advocating that we embrace unproven, expensive and dangerous technology that requires a constant supply of a finite fissile resource instead of exploiting a vast and inexhaustible supply of clean energy from the sun.

Beyond bonkers!
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (3) Jun 06, 2014


You are advocating that we embrace unproven


Nuclear has a long proven track record. It's renewables that have not yet been demonstrated viable.

expensive


France has cheap energy. That's a fact, not an opinion.

and dangerous


Nuclear power is extremely safe. Again a demonstrated fact, not an opinion. Only solar and wind are safer.

that requires a constant supply of a finite fissile resource


Fast breeder reactors make more fuel than they burn, as I've already pointed out.

Caliban
5 / 5 (3) Jun 07, 2014


You are advocating that we embrace unproven


Nuclear has a long proven track record. It's renewables that have not yet been demonstrated viable.

expensive


France has cheap energy. That's a fact, not an opinion.

and dangerous


Nuclear power is extremely safe. Again a demonstrated fact, not an opinion. Only solar and wind are safer.

that requires a constant supply of a finite fissile resource


Fast breeder reactors make more fuel than they burn, as I've already pointed out.


Yeah, perfectly safe, especially when you consider the lifecycle safety of nuclear power:

http://www.ask.co...=ask.com

You really are that married to nuclear, aren't you?

yep
5 / 5 (2) Jun 08, 2014
Fast breeder reactors was the mistake we made with political decisions in a Cold War mentality, with big profits for the military complex. Nuclear could be "perfectly safe" using Thorium reactors. If I remember correctly thorium is as common as lead and three shipping containers a year could satisfy the entire countries electrical needs without meltdown worries. The leftover waste about three shipping containers a year has a thirty year half life. Of course that would have killed big coal, the fuel oil industry , a bunch of CNG and all the money for fuel rods and depleted uranium for weapons for the last fifty years.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Jun 08, 2014
So technically, virtually impossible is the same as possible right?


The main argument is about acceptable level of risk.

Demanding that there is no risk is self-defeating because EVERY technology has a risk that is countable in human lives. You driving your car down the road has consequences in air pollution even if you were driving an electric car charged out of a windmill, which will statistically cause death, so it is extremely hypocritical of you to demand zero risk from nuclear power.

Nuclear meltdown, even the most hazardous kind, is ultimately not the end of the world. Chernobyl was not the end of the world. The point is to make sure that the chance of harm that will eventually be realized does not exceed the harm that we are already causing by all the other means of energy production.

The problem here is that you are happy to accept risks that are diluted and killing everyone all the time, but not nuclear power because it might kill some people some of the time.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2014
expensive and dangerous technology that requires a constant supply of a finite fissile resource


Techincally speaking, nuclear fuel itself is responsible for less than 10% of the cost of nuclear energy, so it is economically viable to extract it even from very poor sources, such as separating uranium and thorium out of sea water.

Furthermore, 98% of the uranium is not of the isotope that can be directly used for power, but could be used in a breeder reactor or a subcritical reactor through neutron bombardment, so there's 50 times more nuclear fuel available than we are even able to use right now because of political reasons.

The "running out of uranium" argument is a moot point when even modest calculations indicate we have thousands of years worth of it. It would be mad not to use such a resource, like having a savings account full of money just sitting around never used because you're afraid it would eventually run out.

Modernmystic
not rated yet Jun 09, 2014
You really are that married to nuclear, aren't you?


I've seen and posted that list and it's dwarfed by all other energy sources except solar and wind. Nuclear is extremely safe and continues to get even more safe.

And if I'm "married" to nuclear then you're just as married to soar and wind, because you'd let the planet fry over simply not having the policy you WANT to have to prevent that.