The Solar Tower Array at the NSEC, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

The solar tower and heliostat field at CSIRO's National Energy Centre in Newcastle, New South Wales.

SolarGas: super solar charged natural gas

SolarGas™ can help conserve fossil fuels by providing an alternative energy source that can be used to enhance the efficiency, sustainability and energy content of gas resources.

  • 7 September 2010 | Updated 23 December 2013

CSIRO is progressing world-class technology, combining two of Australia's largest energy resources – solar energy and natural gas.

The resulting product is SolarGas™, a super-charged product that contains more power than natural gas and embodies around 25 per cent solar energy in the form of chemical bonds.

This new product can be stored and transported or used in its fuel form instead of burning fossil resources.

SolarGas™ can reduce emissions in three sectors with highly significant greenhouse gas footprints – electricity, transport fuels and chemicals.

Combining water, natural gas and sunshine

SolarGas™ is a high-temperature concentrated solar thermal technology.

The sun's energy is captured in an endothermic process (chemical reaction caused by absorbing heat) that transforms the natural gas and water feedstock into a higher energy product – a bit like 'solar supercharging' the fuel.

SolarGas™ is a super-charged product that contains more power than natural gas and embodies around 25 per cent solar energy in the form of chemical bonds.

A field of mirrors (heliostats) is used to direct solar energy to a tower which houses a reactor.

"SolarGas™ can help conserve fossil fuels by providing an alternative energy source that can be used to enhance the efficiency, sustainability and energy content of gas resources."

The reactor uses the high temperatures created by the solar energy, in the presence of a catalyst, to perform a chemical reaction between water and natural gas.

The SolarGas facility at CSIRO’s National Solar Energy Centre, Newcastle, New South Wales, uses 170 mirrors to receive and concentrate more than 500 kW of solar energy.

That's enough to achieve peak temperatures of over 1000 degrees.

Existing fossil technologies perform this reaction using excess water and provide heat for the reaction by burning about half of the natural gas supply.

CSIRO has developed new, more efficient catalysts which reduce water use. SolarGas™ with new catalysts, provides a more efficient process with 50 per cent fossil resource saving and up to 70 per cent reduction in water use. 

SolarGas™ advantages

There are a number of major advantages of SolarGas™:

  • Twenty-five per cent more energy than the original natural gas
  • Solar energy is greenhouse gas emissions free
  • It can be stored, transported and exported in liquid form
  • Solar energy can be stored in a useful, combustible form
  • It can be used as a feedstock to make liquid fuels such as diesel, methanol and gasoline
  • It can be used to create a cleaner burning transport fuel, Hythane.
  • Can be used to create solar hydrogen, suitable for powering fuel cell-powered vehicles and fertiliser production, petrochemical processing, steel-making
  • Using a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine for electricity generation SolarGas™ can achieve efficiencies of around 60 per cent, much higher than the 40 per cent achieved by conventional Steam Rankine Cycle power generation.

A flexible power source

Delivered in existing gas pipelines, SolarGas™ can be used for:

  • power generation
  • transport (fuel cell or hybrid natural gas – hydrogen powered vehicles)
  • gas appliances.

SolarGas™ production can either be localised or centralised for example, housing mirrors and a reactor on the roof of a local shopping centre or, alternatively, a large scale solar field could be built in a centralised location in arid sunny regions near gas pipelines.

The gas source can be any hydrocarbon such as natural gas, coal seam gas and biogas.

SolarGas travels the world

A study funded by the Australian Government, in collaboration with the Solar Energy Commission of India, identified that SolarGas technology has the potential to provide a sustainable and cost-effective alternative for hydrogen production in some of India’s most important industries.

It’s hoped that deploying SolarGas in India will lead to job creation through local manufacturing and operation of the technology.

It could also help energy and food security, because less natural gas would be needed for hydrogen production, the cost of and carbon emissions from making fertiliser would reduce, and there would be less pressure on future gas prices.

The next steps are to use the study’s findings to develop a pilot-scale SolarGas facility in India and show the technology working in a real application.

Download the brochure below (either in a PDF or Word version) and find out more about SolarGas and India. 

To find out more about CSIRO's  Energy Flagship.

SolarGas™ is a trademark of CSIRO Australia.