New synthetic material will play a pivot role in making solar energy more cost-effective, efficient, and reliable as a source of power. In the context of replacing fossil fuels, solar power plants must have the capabilities and efficiency to match the electrical output of non-renewable energy sources. Unremitting innovation and development of new products that can absorb and exchange heat at higher temperatures can be the game-changer.
The solar panels in solar power plants are massive in comparison to their panel counterparts used on hybrid cars. The panels absorb thermal energy and then channel that heat into a fluid-filled converter called the heat exchanger. And, supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2), which is a liquid version of carbon dioxide (CO2) is said to be the medium in the energy conversion. So, the hotter the fluid, it results in more electricity production. Researchers have professed on a new technology that uses sCO2 as the medium fluid lowering electricity and manufacturing costs and promising greater efficiency for future power plants.
Dorrin Jarrahbashi, an Assistant Professor in the mechanical engineering department at Texas A&M University stated that the current metal materials that are used to construct the heat exchangers in sCO2 energy cycles are stable up to 550C. And, if the heat rises above this level, then the components would begin to break down rapidly losing effectiveness. Researchers have created a new composite material to resolve this. The material is made of ceramic and tungsten, a refractory metal that is known to withstand temperatures of over 750C. The leap in the absorption of heat could increase the efficiency of generating electricity in integrated solar and sCO2 power plants by 20%.
The durability of the composite and its low production cost would not only enhance energy output but also help cut down the expense of constructing and maintaining power plants. Jarrahbashi stated that using the material for manufacturing heat exchangers was an important step towards direct competition with fossil fuel power plants and a large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, the applications for the composite are said to be numerous with its chemical, thermal and mechanical characteristics. And, the implications of this innovation are said to stretch far into the future of research and industry. Meanwhile, the research findings are published in the journal Nature.