IISc working on new tech for efficient solar energy generation

By: Aniruddha Ghosh

Bangalore 6th October 2017: A new solar thermal power technology being developed by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) aims to help India fulfill one its major National Solar Mission objectives.

The research, done by IISc. professors of Mechanical Engineering Department, Pradip Dutta and Promod Kumar aims to use supercritical-CO2(s-co2)—which is carbon dioxide of a higher temperature—in solar power plants to generate more power than traditional power plants. This will make them more efficient by 50 per cent  and more compact. Currently, steam is used in solar power plants, which is expensive, apart from being difficult to scale.

Encouraging home-made solar thermal capabilities is one of the main objectives of the National Solar mission.  The idea is to enable India to become a leader in large scale solar power production. Also, India has pledged at the Paris climate summit to draw 40 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2030. In addition to that, it aims to install 175 giga-watts of renewable energy by 2022.

The technology is being developed by the IISc and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), a US government research centre. They are in a consortium partnership under the Solar Energy Research Institute for India and the United States.

Clifford Ho, Acting Manager, R&D S&E, Mechanical Engineering at Sandia National Laboratories said that “there is a lot of collaboration.” Top officials from SNL are in consultation with Prof. Kumar and both parties have visited each other labs in India and the US, he added.

“The technology will also affect the costs of generating power,” explained Pradip Dutta, co-leader of the research. “A smaller turbine will make the power plant cheaper and at the same time, the higher efficiency achieved would reduce CO2 emissions from plants running on fossil fuels,” he added.
 “We use test loops, which have been developed by the IISc. to evaluate the performance of compressors and turbo expanders, which are necessary for this technology,” said Clifford Ho.

The test loop has been set up at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Energy Research (ICER) in Bangalore with inputs from scientists from SNL, IISc and the Ministry for New and Renewable Resources.

Implementing this technology is a challenge as it needs development of compatible equipment such as turbines, compressors and heat exchangers. “We are addressing each problem on a case by case basis” said Promod Kumar, co-leader of the research.

“There are a lot of promising results. In the next five years we should be ready with plans for a power plant that allows that 50 per cent conversion to happen” said Jesus Ortega, R&D S&E, Mechanical Engineering at SNL and the person spearheading the effort both in the US and India. “Countries like Australia, Chile and Spain are also interested in this technology, but right now, this technology has received government interest only from the US and India,” he added.
Promod Kumar, co-leader of the research at IISc said “We are looking at a 3-4 year time frame to set up a 10 megawatt power plant.”

Jesus Ortega said although there’s still time, but with the collaboration, they are looking to speed up the process

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