For nearly four decades, concentrating solar power plants have been generating clean energy for our schools, homes, offices, and communities. Yet, hydrogen buildup remains a consistent challenge of concentrating solar power (CSP) plants, which can be expensive to mitigate and reduces efficiency of the plant.
In fact, the most common type of CSP plant is based on a parabolic trough design. In this design, heat absorber tubes pass along curved concentrating mirrors to absorb the energy of the sun. Meanwhile, in the operation phase, the organic-based fluid that transmits heat from the parabolic trough receivers to the electricity-producing steam turbine undergoes a minuscule but constant thermal breakdown. Though small, the resulting off gassing of hydrogen has a severe impact, wherein thermal losses can diminish plant efficiency and revenue by 15%.
Worldwide, operating parabolic trough plants are more than 80 in number. This adds up to lost generation capacity estimated to be 750 megawatts, and revenue loss of about US$ 250 million each year.
Erstwhile solutions to mitigate Hydrogen Buildup non-viable
Inevitably, all concentrating solar power parabolic trough plants face hydrogen buildup.
Therefore, in order to develop an effective solution to the intractable problem required complete sleuthing skills of the researcher. This includes practical knowledge of CSP plant operations, keen observation, and computational modeling expertise.
Earlier, several promising solutions for hydrogen buildup either failed testing or were sustainable only for five to seven years. The replacing of individual receivers once their efficiency was diminished proved to be an expensive option. Meanwhile, hydrogen being the invisible culprit in the problem was hiding in plain sight.
For a solution to this, the researcher in collaboration with some energy institutions developed a systemic mitigation process that controls hydrogen permanently.