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 wherever gas is available to enhance the efficiency, sustainability and energy content of that resource.
7 September 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011
CSIRO is progressing world-class technology, combining two of Australia's largest energy resources – solar energy with 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 which CSIRO has been developing since 1998.
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.
As with many other concentrated solar thermal processes, a field of mirrors (heliostats) is used to direct solar energy to a tower which houses a reactor. 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.
There are a number of major advantages of SolarGas™:
- Twenty-six per cent more energy than the original natural gas.
- The solar component 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 dimethylether and also fine chemicals and fertilisers.
- Can be used to create solar hydrogen, suitable for powering fuel cell-powered vehicles.
- 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™ technology has generated considerable interest because it combines two large resources – sun and gas.
Solar reforming (SolarGas™) is not a new concept, however CSIRO has developed it well beyond the research stage and it is now ready for commercial application.
Learn more about CSIRO Energy Technology.
SolarGas™ is a trademark of CSIRO Australia.