New synthetic material will play a pivotal role in making solar energy more cost-effective, efficient, and reliable as a source of power. In the context of replacing fossil fuels, solar power plants must have the capabilities and efficiency to match the electrical output of non-renewable energy sources. Unremitting innovation and developing new products that can absorb and exchange heat at higher temperatures can be the game-changer.
The solar panels in solar power plants are massive compared to their panel counterparts used on hybrid cars. The panels absorb thermal energy and then channel that heat into a fluid-filled converter called the heat exchanger. Supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2), a liquid version of carbon dioxide (CO2), is the medium in the energy conversion. So, the hotter the fluid, it results in more electricity production. Researchers have professed a new technology that uses sCO2 as the medium fluid lowering electricity and manufacturing costs and promising greater efficiency for future power plants.
Dorrin Jarrahbashi, an Assistant Professor in the mechanical engineering department at Texas A&M University, stated that the current metal materials used to construct the heat exchangers in sCO2 energy cycles are stable up to 5500C. If the heat rises above this level, the components will begin to break down rapidly, losing effectiveness. Researchers have created a new composite material to resolve this. The material is made of ceramic and tungsten, a refractory metal known to withstand temperatures of over 7500C. The leap in the absorption of heat could increase electricity’s efficiency in integrated solar and sCO2 power plants by 20%.
The durability of the composite and its low production cost would enhance energy output and help cut down the expense of constructing and maintaining power plants. Jarrahbashi stated that using the material for manufacturing heat exchangers was an important step towards direct competition with fossil fuel power plants and a large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, the composite applications are said to be numerous with its chemical, thermal and mechanical characteristics. The implications of this innovation are said to stretch far into the future of research and industry. Meanwhile, the research findings are published in the journal Nature.