Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Jun 02

Molten Salt Solar Plant

Posted in Energy Inventions | Future Technology | Solar Power

Molten Salt Solar Plant If you happen to travel to Las Vegas, you can come across a tall tower surrounded by around 1,800 mirrors. Mirrors size may be equivalent to a billboard. Don’t confuse it with a futuristic movie set. It is an alternative energy power plant committed to produce clean and green energy in desert areas. The project could be completed by 2013. It might utilize an array of 15,000 heliostats to direct sunlight to a solar collecting tower. The solar collector might be at a height of 600 feet. Twenty five feet wide mirrors can also be utilized to direct sunlight to the tower.

The mirrors would direct the heat of the sun towards the tower containing molten salt. The molten salt would start flowing through the receiver leading to the generation of powerful steam. We know the power of steam and how it inspired James Watt to develop steam engine. So here the steam, like that coming out of a nozzle of a boiling tea kettle, could easily drive a turbine. The mechanical movement of turbine could be converted to create electricity.

A Santa Monica-based energy firm known as SolarReserve in association with a rocket maker in Canoga Park is planning to set up a much larger plant in this desert area to power around 100,000 homes. This power plant will consume molten salt, water, sun’s heat and rocket science to generate electricity. SolarReserve have already patented the technology. Engineers from Rocketdyne are instrumental in developing this technology. Terry Murphy who is the president of SolarReserve says, “Molten salt is the secret sauce.” Many technological ideas are being in various state of readiness to be implemented in California. But analysts found molten salt technology as most unusual and at the same time promising idea. Nathaniel Bullard, a solar energy analyst with New Energy Finance in Alexandria, Va, thinks, “It’s actually something we’ll likely see in a few years. It’s moving along in a nice way, and they have good capital behind it.” Last year the company secured $140 million in venture capital.

The biggest advantage of the molten salt is once cooled, it could be reutilized for the same purpose. The molten salt can be stored for days to generate electricity. We know that storage of power is great problem as far as energy generated from alternative sources. We can store power in a battery on a small scale basis such as car or home. But power for such a large scale can’t be stored in batteries. Murphy elaborates on the solution to power storage, “You can put that (molten salt) into a storage tank that would look much like a tank at an oil refinery. We can store that energy almost indefinitely.”

SolarReserve, is providing funds to the venture and doing the marketing of the project. Many environmentalists groups are voicing concern about the amount of water utilized. But SolarReserve officials are sure that the plant would use one-tenth the amount of water required by a conventional plant.

The technology is comparable to the Rocketdyne engineers developed for the nation’s more notable space programs with one exception, they didn’t use salt! SolarReserve is utilizing the services of same engineers that also worked for the development of the power system for the International Space Station. The same engineers were involved with the propulsion system for the Apollo lunar module

  • russ

    Heat storage is the big thing – if this technology really works then great.

    The water thing is just a standard greenie whining point – They have heard the point and parrot it. I suppose most don’t even know where the water consumption comes from – not a big deal once you have another method of handling waste heat.

    The volumes for storage will still be immense – not mentioned in the article. This is far from finished.

  • Phillip Greene

    To say that water is a “standard greenie whining point” is like saying that nuclear waste is just a garbage problem. If you think the depletion of fossil fuels is a problem, try living without water. If you go to Las Vegas check out Lake Mead whose “normal” water level is 100 ft above where the water currently is. Also check out the huge project by which they are digging a hole for a new water intake.

  • James

    Do you think that using curved mirrors that have focal points that focus on the tower will increase efficiency and will decrease the need for the amount of mirrors?

  • russ

    A closed cycle system such as the CSP is uses very little water – much less than any other method of power generation expect PV units which have other problems.

  • Leslie

    James, I expect that it would. Lets hope for the best.

  • Jaysenergy

    As for the water issue, Nevada and California need to work together on that. California sits next to an unlimited supply of water (Pacific Ocean) that can be desalinated using recent solar technologies like Australia is using. The sooner Calif implements said technology, the sooner they won’t need Colorado River water anymore.
    Please note: There are entire nations in the Middle East whose primary source of drinking/washing water is the ocean.

  • Rosco

    Yeah, so what… The DOE did this in the 80s & 90s. It was called Solar 1 and Solar 2. You can still see solar 2 from the north side of the 40 FWY east of the 15 FWY. These guys didn’t invent anything, they just figured out a way to sell it… I hope it goes big.

  • Andrew

    Molten salts are used in some batteries under development, and also in a number of nuclear power plants, right? And since the Water issue is of concern, perhaps the company could consider using some of the energy produced, through contracts and such, to power a desalinization operation. And to Jays energy, Would there be issues of increased salinity of regions with desalinization plants? How would this affect that local ecosystem?

  • Frogz

    The way the video sells this technology is a bit misleading. “Power the world…” and what not. Suppose you lived in Norway or Finland where it is dark six months of the year. Solar energy generators would be useless for most of the year. I think nations should work together and export renewable energy. I heard some time ago that there were plans to build solar power stations in north Africa to supply Europe. North Europe could export power generated by wave, wind and geothermal sources. Integrating renewable sources and exporting power seems to be the sensible way to go.

  • russ

    Agreed Frogz – build them where the conditions are right such as ski slopes in the Rockies and solar power in Arizona.

    I recently read about a National Guard unit in New Hampshire installing solar PV – not exactly the best of all locations. Build it or invest in one in the proper location and use the income to pay your power bill from the grid. That is a lot more green than pissing away money to look cool.

    Another was a solar PV installation in Portland, OR – great sun for 6 months and none for the next 6 months.

  • Mark

    Powerful floods happen in the Midwest each year, right? Why not run a pipeline to the Southwest & California? You say it will cost billions of dollars, but just total up the cost of the floods and the damage from wildfires each year and the cost water in drought stricken So-Cal. You would probably have the money for it plus water left over for running the Solar plant. I’m sure that someone will poke wholes in the this, but think of the jobs that would be created also. We (being the USA) have built pipelines all across the world, what’s one more and think of the benefits that we would get from it. Even if it leaked some you would disperse the water over a larger area.

  • Robert

    How about placing about one-quarter of those mirrors on a simple motorized track that would physically track the mirrors at 180 degrees to the sun and collector? Far more wallop? More economical? Less power and software than stationary tracking?

  • larry hagedon

    Next step then could be to use sewage, garbage, animal manures and wet biomass like switch grass as a source of the steam.

    The steam could be flashed from the feedstock by the salt heat, breaking up the bonds in the cellulosic material and partially drying it for further processing, perhaps in a pyrolytic chamber.

    You could perhaps even have a net gain of clean, pure water this way.

  • russ

    I was wrong on the water – the use is substantial – as best I can find out they are using cooling towers and the system will use something between 500 and 750 gallons per mW.

    The plants have to integrate a consumer for the low temperature heat source. This is typical in many processes where one cascades into another.

    Air cooling uses less water but is a bit more expensive and raises the cost of power generated. In the Mohave desert I have seen figures that air coolers would result in a reduction of generation by 5% and an increase in power cost of 7 to 9%. In a cooler area the power cost penalty may be in the 2% range.

    Air (dry) cooling systems cost 3 times what the cooling towers do but cooling towers should not be that expensive.

    In coastal areas salt water cooling towers could be used.

    In cooler areas the penalty for the air coolers is less.

  • Robert

    I still say that it makes more economic sense to place fewer mirrors more deeply spaced on a simple motorized track that always places the mirrors at almost 180 degrees to the collector and sun. This would additionally require far fewer motors that are required for stationary tracking and far less and complicates software.

  • fireofenergy

    Everybody has to figure out the best form of very large scale energy storage. Then the price of wind and solar can come down due to economies of scale and the ability to sell power during peak loads.

    There is Pumped hydro, compressed air, superconducting, mass wheel, battery, super capacitor and heat (molten salt). Obviously, some are too pricey and or do not contain the high energy densities to store billions of MWH throughout the world. However, the least likely will probably be the one that has the potential of exponential development.

    And ya! They should outlaw the development of any more coal plants unless with complete sequestration. That’s the only hope of humanity developing clean energy and storage needed to stop the rising level of CO2.

  • BC smitty

    A molten salt solar plant is being proposed about three miles from my place. I am currently off the grid and like it that way. what are the downsides of these types of plants.

  • russ

    Water consumption with the configuration they are using.

    Could be low water consumption but they have gone for cooling towers which use the maximum amount.

  • Femi Ades

    What do you think about setting up a molten salt solar plant in Nigeria?

  • larry hagedon

    As I started to say in post 13, you can obtain water from sewage and municipal solid wastes. All such installations as this work best as a part of a biotech complex of technologies.

    Put in sewage treatment using algae. Put in pyrolytic reduction of city garbage. Capture the steam.

    Save the water from each of these processes and re use it. Extract the heat as you go and use that to produce more energy. Lots of ways these technologies can be combined for the greater benefit.

  • Hiro Chandwani

    There should not be any worry regarding the use of water. Water can be generated during the operation without any cost if your plant is located near sea coast. In fact, you may have excess water generated at little cost.

  • LAB

    Most difficult part is getting a tank that can withstand the high temperatures over time.

  • Darryl

    Go with a geothermal (underground) closed condensing loop instead of a cooling tower to reduce water consumption. Initial cost would be >10 times as much but would reduce water evaporation from cooling towers.

  • Charles

    Why not capture the “waste” water that is boiled off and re-use it? If the plant is boiling off water, the plant itself is a form of desalinization plant (one of the common forms of desalinization is to boil water and re-condense it, the re-condensed water now being desalinated and potable.) The re-condensed water could then either be used as one normally uses water, or it could be dumped back into the stations water intake which would increase efficiency, as less new energy is needed due to the residual warmth.

  • virinder singh

    I am an Ex-Commissioner of Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission( regulating power sector in the state of Punjab in North -West India) having over 44 years of experience in power sector. The molten salt based solar thermal power station shall be the ultimate solution to the world’s clean energy problem. The storage batteries shall be as polluting as coal based thermal plant. If any body can provide me technical details of this molten salt based solar thermal technology and the cost of power generated per unit, I shall be grateful and take up the matter with Govt of India and state governments to start power generation through this innovative system. This would be a great service to the mankind through saving our environment and help in combating the climate change. The developing economies like India can gain a lot from it. Please correspond at

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