New developments in solar power helps to shed new light on efficiency issues.
Halotechnics, a solar energy startup, has announced the development of two new materials that can be used for storing solar heat energy. The company has garnered the support of ARPA-E, an alternative energy branch of the Department of Energy. Halotechnics focuses on developing solar-thermal technologies that are meant to make the use of solar energy more efficient and viable. Researchers with the company believe that the new materials could help solve some of the problems the solar industry is currently struggle to overcome.
The first new material is a type of salt. Salts are used in solar thermal systems to store large amounts of heat energy. This heat is then used to produce steam, which drives turbines and produces electricity. Solar thermal systems are becoming a popular alternative to conventional photovoltaic solar panels as they are able to operate in the lack of sunlight. Researchers say that these new salts could help solar energy reach a 6-cent goal, which means that consumers would be paying approximately six cents to use electricity generated by solar thermal systems.
The second material developed by Halotechnics is a type of glass, which is also used to improve the storage capacity of solar thermal energy systems. The glass materials developed by the company helped it surpass the expectations of ARPA-E. The agency had tasked the company to develop a solar thermal energy storage system that could operate at temperatures as high as 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit. Using the new glass material, Halotechnics developed a system that could operate at temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Halotechnics still faces challenges with the system, however, due to its high operating temperatures. High temperatures put severe strain on the mechanical components of solar thermal energy systems, such as the turbines used to generate electricity. The company believes that these challenges can be overcome, but it will take several years for solar thermal to become commercially viable. ARPA-E has shown devotion to this type of solar power and will continue to fund the research and development of solar thermal energy for the foreseeable future.