Artist impression of the new solar tower Brayton Cycle demonstration field at CSIRO's National Solar Energy Centre.
Australia's largest solar thermal research hub
The first of its kind in Australia, this large-scale demonstration site will be an international hub for researching and commercialising concentrated solar energy technologies.
9 June 2011 | Updated 24 May 2012
In 2010 construction began on a new A$4.2 million solar thermal field, tower and research facility at CSIRO’s National Solar Energy Centre in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.
This project was funded by the Australian Solar Institute (ASI), a A$150 million Commonwealth Government initiative, part of the A$5 billion Clean Energy Initiative.
The future of solar energy
CSIRO has designed and built Australia's largest solar thermal research facility which consists of a 30 metre high solar tower (the tallest in Australia) and high temperature receiver, and a 4000 square metre field of 450 heliostats. The facility is capable of concentrating solar energy at temperatures beyond 1000 ºC.
The facility is an international hub for researching and commercialising concentrated solar energy technology – already attracting international collaboration with MHI Japan.
CSIRO will use the facility to develop and test one of the world’s most powerful solar air turbines to generate electricity from air and sunshine alone (almost all current systems require water as well as fossil fuel).
How solar air turbines work
The air turbine uses what is call the ‘Brayton Cycle’; a thermodynamic cycle (a cycle that converts heat and pressure into useful forms of energy) commonly used in jet engine turbines.
The way it will work at CSIRO’s solar research facility in Newcastle, is as follows:
- Concentrated solar energy is reflected by 450 custom designed heliostats (mirrors) to the solar receiver that sits on top of a 30 metre high tower. The receiver houses the air turbine and air compressor.
- Fresh air is drawn into the compressor; the air is compressed and then transferred to the solar receiver.
- The compressed air in the solar receiver is then heated to 900 degrees Celsius using concentrated solar energy.
- The hot air is then expanded through the 200kW turbine to generate electricity.
- Electricity is then fed into the grid or used by CSIRO to power the site.
Energy generation and storage
The pilot site will cover an area of 4000 square metres and although this site is being used for research, a site of this size could generate enough electricity to power nearly 200 homes.
To overcome weather/sun variability the compressed air can also be heated by natural gas combustion. CSIRO is also investigating high temperature solar energy storage.
Find out more about CSIRO's solar research: Solar power: energy from the sun.