Washington: When Life Gives You Solar, Make Syngas

Project Overview
Positive Impact: World record solar-to-chemical energy conversion efficiency achieved.
Location: Richland, Washington
Partner: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
EERE Investment: $3.5M
Clean Energy Sector: Renewable Electricity GenerationPDF

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is developing a new method for combining solar energy with modified natural gas power plants. This concentrating solar power (CSP) system harnesses sunlight to produce syngas, which is a fuel capable of driving a standard heat engine to produce electricity. In addition to offsetting the need for fossil fuels in traditional power plants, PNNL’s approach offers an affordable pathway to solar-generated electricity that is available round-the-clock.

The PNNL research team achieved a world-record 63% (+/-4%) solar-to-chemical energy conversion efficiency during a 2011 demonstration test supported by a 2009 DOE CSP American Recovery and Reinvestment Act award. Through a 2012 SunShot CSP Research and Development award, the team is pushing the efficiency of the system higher as it moves from proof-of-concept to validated prototype. This project could impact the market in as few as three years thanks to a license agreement that solidifies SolarThermoChemical LLC as a cost-share and commercialization partner in the project. If all goes according to plan, SolarThermoChemical will be able to mass-produce the PNNL system for market consumption when the performance period ends in 2015.

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) focuses on achieving the goals of the SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade.

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