CSIRO claims milestone in solar-powered steam turbines

Under pressure

The CSIRO is trumpeting a breakthrough in using solar energy to create “supercritical” steam suitable for powering electricity turbines.

The $AU9.7 million demonstration project, at the agency's Energy Centre in Newcastle, hit a steam pressure of 23.5 megapascals (MPa) at a temperature of 570°C.

That's significant, because it means the steam was above the “supercritical” steam pressure level of 22 Mpa, at which modern steam turbine generators operate. At that pressure, heated above 374°C, water transitions directly to steam without first forming bubbles.

As CSIRO says, “Around 90 per cent of Australia's electricity is generated using fossil fuel, but only a small number of power stations are based on the more advanced supercritical steam.”

“The steam conditions we've achieved are comparable to what is running in fossil fuel power stations,” explained CSIRO's Rob McNaughton. “We're able to either displace the steam that goes into these, reducing the fossil fuel reliance, or in some cases, maybe even replace fossil fuel completely.”

CSIRO Energy Director says the milestone is a “step change” that “proves solar has the potential to compete with the peak performance capabilities of fossil fuel sources.” ®

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