The US Department of Energy has announced the awarding of a grant to support solar energy research at Savannah River National Lab, at the Savannah River Site. Grants totaling $87 million will be distributed to facilities nationwide including the SRS Lab. The lab will partner with the University of South Carolina and the University of Notre Dame.
The work will lead to the development of high temperature heat transfer fluids which will increase the efficiency of solar power plants.
Savannah River Lab spokesperson Angie French says the research will focus on what scientists call “solar concentration.” “That means capturing the sun’s heat on a receiver tube that has a liquid in it,” says French. “That liquid absorbs the heat and concentrates it and uses it to make steam at a turbine.”
The award is part of more than $117 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding allocated for the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Program.
French says nanotechnology will be an important part of the project. USC is well known for it’s nanotechnology research.
“They’re looking at using nanoparticles,” she says. “Nanoparticles are about one-ten-thousandth the diameter of a human hair. Those particles in a liquid salt formula are a way of enhancing heat transfer properties to make the collection of solar power more efficient.”
French says solar power is increasingly important to the nation’s energy future.
And French points out that the focus of the lab at the Savannah River Site is energy security: “We work in hydrogen because of our work in tritium, a form of hydrogen used in national defense. We’re using our materials science expertise for solar energy. We’re using biology and microbiology to look at biofuels. And we’re using our expertise in environmental science to look at wind energy.”