Researchers at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have managed to generate supercritical steam at the highest temperatures ever achieved using solar energy. Supercritical steam is a real breakthrough and gives us the hope that one day the zero-emission energy of the sun could be used to drive the most advanced power stations in the world, currently only driven by fossil fuel sources.
How they managed to do it:
CSIRO created the highest temperatures ever achieved by using a field of more than 600 directional mirrors (heliostats) directed at two towers housing solar receivers and turbines. The researchers produced the supercritical steam at a pressure of 23.5 mpa (3400 psi) and 570° C (1,058° F).
How it is different from present day’s commercial solar thermal plants:
Currently, commercial solar thermal plants make use of subcritical steam which operates at lower pressure and leads to inefficiencies. On the other hand, supercritical solar steam is produced after water is pressurized at enormous force and then heated using solar radiation.
If the world’s commercial solar thermal power plants which use subcritical steam could shift to supercritical steam it would greatly increase efficiency and lower costs.
Although at present this technology is not ready to be scaled up on a commercial level, this breakthrough brings solar thermal energy a step closer to cost competitiveness with fossil fuels.