It is used to power jet engines, now the same principle of converting compressed air into energy will produce enough electricity for up to 200 houses.
CSIRO’s energy centre at Mayfield West has become home to the southern hemisphere’s biggest Brayton cycle project, which uses only the sun and air to produce electricity.
The main advantage of the technology is that, unlike current solar thermal plants, it can be used in areas with no water, which are often the sunniest places on the planet.
‘‘It’s well suited to mining and minerals projects that use large amounts of electricity but which are located in very remote parts of Australia,’’ CSIRO energy systems manager James McGregor said.
It is also consistent with the CSIRO’s goal of producing solar-generated electricity at the same cost or cheaper than fossil fuel-generated electricity when the cost of carbon is taken into account.
An array of 450 2.4metre by 1.8metre concave mirrors, called heliostats concentrate the sun’s rays at a 30-metre tower containing a radiation receiver, which produces temperatures of up to 1500 degrees.
The heat then drives a compressed air turbine that can produce 200kilowatts of power, which in the case of the Newcastle pilot project is fed into the grid.
The heliostats, produced by Central Coast company Performance Engineering Group, are smaller than most in use but are just as efficient and cheaper.
‘‘The more we build the cheaper they will become,’’ Mr McGregor said.
‘‘We are working with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with the intention of having a demonstration field operating in about two years and making the technology commercially available in about two or three years after that.’’
The project has been supported by the federal government through the Australian Solar Institute.
HOW IT WORKS
An array of 450 concave mirrors, called heliostats, direct the sun’s rays at a 30-metre solar collection tower.
The tower’s radiation receiver produces temperatures of up to 1500 degrees.
The extreme heat forces compressed air through a turbine to generate 200kilowatts of power.
The power is used on site or fed back into the grid.