A 26m high tower with a large hoop stands amongst a field of large mirrors.

The National Solar Energy Centre features a mirrored field and a 26m high tower with a reactor that will convert natural gas to SolarGas.

Solar thermal energy research

Being able to efficiently concentrate solar thermal energy has the potential to generate a practical, green source of energy for Australia.

  • 1 December 2005 | Updated 14 October 2011

These days most people are aware of the environmental benefits of solar energy, but to date solar generation has tended to focus on small scale, domestic and remote service units.

The Energy Transformed Flagship, utilising the capabilities of CSIRO Energy Technology and other industry and research partners, is working on a major research project to develop solar thermal technologies.

Current activities

This program is moving forward by building Australia’s National Solar Energy Centre (NSEC). The centre itself comprises the development and demonstration of SolarGas, Solar H2 and the Solar Turbine through accompanying research activities.

In addition, it is the aim to make the NSEC an internationally recognised centre for collaborative solar research.

Innovative research programs

The NSEC will provide the physical and conceptual framework for the demonstration of SolarGas technology and the solar turbine.

The SolarGas project comprises two parallel pathways. They are:

  • the development, construction and testing of a central receiver, boasting the most compact optical field in the world, and suitable for generating temperatures above 1200 °C
  • the development and demonstration of a reactor that combines natural gas and solar energy to form SolarGas, and ultimately Solar H2.

The advantage of combining two of Australia’s largest resources in this way is that it provides storage of solar energy, transportable solar energy and a transitional path from a fossil fuel to a solar energy economy.

The development of solar thermal research will contribute to the move towards a renewable energy based economy.

The Energy Transformed Flagship research program plans to use the high temperature solar field to develop other solar technologies such as:

  • beam spectrum splitting
  • water splitting to produce hydrogen
  • distributed generation using microturbines.

Partners

NSEC collaborating partners are:

  • Energy Transformed Flagship
  • CSIRO Energy Technology (Lead Division)
  • Department of Education, Science and Training
  • NSW Sustainable Energy Research and Development Fund
  • Australian National University (Canberra)
  • Solar Heat and Power (Australian SME)
  • DLR (Germany)

Outcomes: impact on greenhouse gases and environmental emissions

The process provides energy with all the environmental benefits of solar in direct proportion to the amount of solar energy utilised in the process.

It is the intention to spread the benefits of this technology beyond Australia’s shores. This will be achieved by developing liquid fuels embodying solar energy for export to other energy-importing countries such as Japan.

This research will result in the development of:

  • new solar-based technologies
  • lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  • contribute to Australia’s economic development through the development of new liquid fuels.

Read more about the Flagship's work in Project profiles.