New tank design, autonomous robot for concentrated solar power plants – pv magazine international

Two different technological developments were announced this week for concentrating solar power technology. In Australia, a consortium led by Vast Solar has filed a patent for a new tank design for thermal energy storage systems. And in the United States, Heliogen announced the deployment of robots to install and clean the projects.

From pv magazine Australia and pv magazine USA

An Australian consortium has filed a patent for a new design of high temperature molten salt tanks used in thermal energy storage systems such as concentrated solar power (CSP) projects.

CSP systems use mirrors and receiving towers to collect and store energy from the sun. Technology, however, has had a checkered history. It was initially hailed as a great solution, but was later blocked by cheap photovoltaic solar panels, combined with issues that hampered its great advantage: distribution capacity.

One such obstacle includes hot tanks for molten storage systems, as they tend to leak due to thermal cycling and fatigue, resulting in substantial production losses for CSP projects.

Now, a consortium that includes Sydney-based Vast Solar, as well as CyD, Solar Dynamics and Alia Energy Consulting and Critical Engineering, say they have jointly developed a new tank design that solves the problem, building on contributions from Advanced Materials. Australian Solar Thermal Research Institute (ASTRI) team led by Queensland University of Technology and Flinders University.

The consortium said they developed the new Flexitank design by carefully analyzing, understanding and learning from previous failures. The design increases the flexibility of the tank bottom and mitigates the risk of failure associated with thermal cycling by absorbing the repeated expansion and contraction typically encountered in such tanks, the consortium said.

“Once we understood the failure modes of tanks and began to test the physical properties of the materials in place, we realized that flexibility is the key to overcoming thermal cycling and fatigue,” said Craig Wood, CEO by Vast Solar. “The economics of thermal storage are compelling and we are delighted that our work now provides the reliability we so badly need. “

Dominic Zaal, director of ASTRI, said the company is “confident” that the new Flexitank “will significantly improve the operating performance of CSP systems in the future”.

Vast Solar

In May, Vast Solar called on contractors to show interest in accelerating plans for a 50 MW hybrid power plant in Mount Isa, Australia. The project will combine photovoltaic solar energy, a large-scale battery and gas engines with concentrated solar thermal energy technology.

Unlike traditional concentrated solar thermal energy technology, which uses molten salt for heat transfer and storage, Vast Solar has developed a low-cost modular technology with integrated thermal storage that uses sodium for the transfer of heat. heat and molten salt for on-demand storage, both of which create steam to drive a turbine.

The technology allows factories to be configured with four to 16 hours of storage and generators up to 500 MW. And it has been proven to Vast Solar’s 1 MW pilot plant in Jemalong, New South Wales, which has supplied electricity to the grid since early 2018. The Jemalong solar farm sits next to an operational 1.1 MW CSP pilot plant deployed by Vast Solar.

Robotic cleaning

Separately, Heliogen, a California-based CSP developer, hosted the first tech demonstration of its Self-Contained Installation and Cleaning Robot and Utility (ICARUS) solution. It is an autonomous robot system designed to clean heliostats, which are the reflecting mirrors of CSP systems.

The heliostats reflect sunlight into a collection tower, where light and heat are converted into electricity and usable thermal energy. Recently, the company partnered with Bloom Energy to produce hydrogen.

Cleaning heliostats can be expensive and labor intensive. Historically, therefore, this has only been done every few months, Heliogen said. Now ICARUS robots can continuously clean systems to maintain high production levels. The ICARUS system uses GPS, ultrasonic rangefinders, and light detection and measurement (LIDAR) sensors to operate fully autonomously.

The ICARUS system autonomously installs heliostats. Image: Heliogen

The system can also deliver the heliostats to an assembly line or field inventory location, and install them with an accuracy of up to 2cm, Heliogen said. It can operate 24 hours a day, day or night, with minimal physical labor. Robots can operate in both structured and unstructured environments and have built-in obstacle and structure avoidance systems.

“By taking advantage of the huge increases in processing power from advancements in Moore’s Law, AI, computation and computer vision, Heliogen aims to make solar power more affordable than ever before,” said said Bill Gross, founder and CEO of Heliogen.

ICARUS will be deployed in Heliogen facilities by 2023.

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