Melting salt to store solar power
Fast-melting salts could solve solar power’s big challenge: the mismatch between peak sunlight hours and peak, evening electricity use.
Associate Professor Frank Bruno and his team at the Barbara Hardy Institute, Thermal Energy Group, have developed a phase-change system that provides energy storage at a tenth of the cost of batteries.
By melting and solidifying an inexpensive liquid salt solution, energy can be stored and released quickly and cheaply. As well as extending the potential reach of renewable energy, the system also allows Australian produce companies to reduce multibillion-dollar refrigeration electricity costs by ‘charging’ the system (freezing the solution) during inexpensive off-peak hours and ‘discharging’ (remelting) during expensive peak hours. Also thermal storage can be used in solar power plants and that’s subject to future research. The energy storage system was awarded the ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology in 2015.
“We developed a new concept known as Dynamic Melting, which both extends the life of these phase change materials, which stores the energy, and also enhances the responsiveness of these systems” says Assoc Prof Bruno.
This system has been commercialised by an Australian company, Quick-Cool Cooling Technologies, and the first commercial plant in now in operation on a farm on the outskirts of Adelaide. It utilises over 300,000kg of phase change materials, which is under license from UniSA.
In addition to this award-winning energy storage system, Assoc Prof Bruno and his team are focused on reducing the energy associated with air conditioning in buildings. They have been involved in developing guidelines for Australia’s leading national green village, Lochiel Park, located in Adelaide. They’ve made recommendations on how energy can be reduced in the homes, the use of energy efficient appliances, and the sizing of solar PV systems.
The team have also led the national testing programme for Seeley International to test their Climate Wizard dry evaporative cooling system. They showed that, in certain situations, it is more efficient than conventional refrigeration systems. Seeley International now manufactures this system in Adelaide. Assoc Prof Bruno has also been involved in numerous air-conditioning monitoring projects. One of the recent ones has been in collaboration with MS Australia (Multiple Sclerosis), where researchers proved that people with MS require more cooling as a consequence of their medical condition. These results will be used to inform future policy to help and support people with MS.
Assoc Prof Bruno says “Within 10 years, we’ll be seeing a big shift from energy sources from the conventional fuels to clean energy sources being obtained from renewable energy sources, being obtained from solar and wind. There’ll be many jobs created in this field and I’m sure we’ll see many new inventions and innovations”.
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