Energy from — molten salt?

May 29, 2009

In these green times energy producers are leaving no stone unturned in the hunt for new sources of energy.

The Los Angeles Times reports that rocket-builder RocketDyne and a Santa Monica-based renewable energy company, SolarReserve, are planning to build a plant that they say could eventually power 100,000 homes by using solar power and molten salt.

The idea, which analysts say is promising, is to use solar power, collected in a huge array of tilting mirrors, to heat up molten salt to over 1,000 degrees Farenheit and use the resulting steam to drive a turbine and generate electricity.

The molten salt would then be cooled and recycled to repeat the process — generating no emissions.

The Times points out that this idea isn’t totally new. In the California desert off Interstate-15, a large solar array of more than 1,800 mirrored panels still stands where a power plant was built as a pilot project using molten salt…


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I appreciate this article because it is the first time I have heard of the application. I did some quick reading, and I see a number of different applications for molten salt. It has a really interesting history.

I understand that the Israeli design with heliostats directing light from the sun to focal points is commercially viable – more so than typical photo-voltaics. If you really think about it, what good is a desert anyways if not to collect a lot of free energy?

From a technical standpoint although I don’t know the details, salt is certainly solid at most normal temperatures. So it seems to have good properties as a type of coolant for particular applications. Plus it is stable and truly abundant. Hopefully more information will be circulated about these types of projects.

Posted by Don | Report as abusive

They have been doing this for decades. The only news is why they haven’t done much more of it.

Posted by jerry dycus | Report as abusive

Jerry, don’t you know? We’re going to have clean coal (oxymoron) so coal mine operators can continue to give campaign contributions (legal bribes) to Washington politicians. The mining unions are even on board with this one. I say put all the miners and tunnelers to work building geothermal electric generation facilities instead. Then the strip mining and belching of CO2 can begin to come to an end.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

The Daggett facility outside of Barstow produced, if memory serves, about 50KW of power. While solar is limited to about 800W/m^2, it is quite efficient and cost effective. So much so, that before the pilot plant ‘accidentally’ burned down (solar powered in the middle of the desert?) the Edison program manager was most enthusiastic about building full scale units capable of 50MW, or more, in a manner more cost effective than coal, natural gas or nuclear. And this was almost 25 years ago
It isn’t the technology, it’s the politics. Who profits from such an action? The people would, but, then that is not important: if people were important, the solar would have been built a quarter century ago, using the then-current technology. It’s how much money goes into certain pockets.
Keep in mind that it is really hard to charge fuel surcharges on solar. How do you tax something like sunlight? Big problem for politicians that can’t even balance their own checkbooks…Right, California?

Posted by jubal harshaw | Report as abusive