photo by billaday
Researchers at the University of Arkansas are working to develop a new way of storing thermal energy in concrete. They were given an award from the U.S. Department of Energy in the sum of $770, 000 dollars as part of the federal government's program to create inexpensive solar energy storage. Concrete for Thermal Storage
Concrete is widely used in Europe as a method to store thermal energy. However, it hasn't been as popular in the United States. Currently, energy can be stored in concrete at a maximum operating temperature of 325 degrees Celsius. The researchers believe they can get the same amount of concrete to store 600 degrees C.
The Super Concrete of the Future
Their plan is to create and test high-performance concrete. They will observe different mixes of concrete, discover which mixes can store the most thermal energy and attempt to use those mixes to create a super-solar-energy-storing concrete. To evaluate the super-concrete, scientists will expose their creation to high temperatures, paying close attention to the rates of thermal loading and the effects of temperature cycles. Computer models will also be used.
Solar Panels Heat the Concrete
Solar panels are used to gather heat that the concrete absorbs, but the energy must be transferred to the concrete via a steel tube. The researchers are also looking for ways of making this energy transfer more efficient.
"Solar holds great promise as an alternative source of energy," said Panneer Selvam, professor of civil engineering. "The government recognizes this and knows that we must move in this direction. The problem is that scientists and engineers have not yet developed technology that will allow producers to harness solar power efficiently. So, one area of emphasis to reduce costs is something called thermal energy storage, which is nothing more than developing effective and cost-efficient methods of transferring heat from collectors and holding it before sending it to generators. That is what we are trying to do."
Cheaper Solar Power
It costs anywhere between 13 and 17 cents per kilowatt hour to store solar energy. The Department of Energy wants to achieve the same storage at 5 cents per kWh by the year 2020.