Natural gas plants with solar boost

A new system under development converts natural gas and sunlight into a fuel called syngas, which power plants can burn to make electricity

04/24/2013


ISS SourceIt might soon be possible for natural gas power plants to use about 20% less fuel when the sun is shining by injecting solar energy into natural gas with a new system under development.

The system converts natural gas and sunlight into a more energy-rich fuel called syngas, which power plants can burn to make electricity.

“Our system will enable power plants to use less natural gas to produce the same amount of electricity they already make,” said the Department of Energy’s (DoE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) Engineer Bob Wegeng, who is leading the project. “At the same time, the system lowers a power plant’s greenhouse gas emissions at a cost that’s competitive with traditional fossil fuel power.”

PNNL will conduct field tests of the system at its campus in Richland, Wash., this summer.

With the U.S. increasingly relying on inexpensive natural gas for energy, this system can reduce the carbon footprint of power generation. DoE’s Energy Information Administration estimates natural gas will make up 27% of the nation’s electricity by 2020. Wegeng said PNNL’s system works best in power plants located in sunshine-drenched areas such as the American Southwest.

Installing PNNL’s system in front of natural gas power plants turns them into hybrid solar-gas power plants. The system uses solar heat to convert natural gas into syngas, a fuel containing hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Because syngas has a higher energy content, a power plant equipped with the system can consume about 20% less natural gas while producing the same amount of electricity.

This decreased fuel usage is possible with concentrating solar power, which uses a reflecting surface to concentrate the sun’s rays like a magnifying glass. PNNL’s system uses a mirrored parabolic dish to direct sunbeams to a central point, where a PNNL-developed device absorbs the solar heat to make syngas.

About four feet long and two feet wide, the device contains a chemical reactor and several heat exchangers. The reactor has narrow channels as wide as six dimes stacked on top of each other. Concentrated sunlight heats up the natural gas flowing through the reactor’s channels, which hold a catalyst that helps turn natural gas into syngas.

The heat exchanger features narrower channels that are a couple times thicker than a strand of human hair. The exchanger’s channels help recycle heat left over from the chemical reaction gas. By reusing the heat, solar energy is more efficient in its ability to convert natural gas into syngas. Tests on an earlier prototype of the device showed more than 60% of the solar energy that hit the system’s mirrored dish converted into chemical energy contained in the syngas.

PNNL is refining the earlier prototype to increase its efficiency while creating a more cost sensitive design. The project includes developing cost-effective manufacturing techniques that could work in mass production. The manufacturing methods will end up developed by PNNL staff at the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute, a research and development facility in Corvallis, OR, jointly managed by PNNL and Oregon State University.

Wegeng’s team aims to keep the system’s overall cost low enough so the electricity produced by a natural gas power plant equipped with the system would cost no more than 6 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2020. Such a price tag would make hybrid solar-gas power plants competitive with conventional, fossil fuel-burning power plants while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The system is adaptable to a large range of natural gas power plant sizes. The number of PNNL devices needed depends on a particular power plant’s size. For example, a 500 MW plant would need roughly 3,000 dishes equipped with PNNL’s device.

Unlike many other solar technologies, PNNL’s system doesn’t require power plants to cease operations when the sun sets or clouds cover the sky. Power plants can bypass the system and burn natural gas directly.

Wegeng also envisions a day when PNNL’s solar-driven system could create transportation fuels. Syngas can also make synthetic crude oil, which can then refine into diesel and gasoline.



No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
The System Integrator Giants program lists the top 100 system integrators among companies listed in CFE Media's Global System Integrator Database.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
This eGuide illustrates solutions, applications and benefits of machine vision systems.
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
Additive manufacturing benefits; HMI and sensor tips; System integrator advice; Innovations from the industry
Robotic safety, collaboration, standards; DCS migration tips; IT/OT convergence; 2017 Control Engineering Salary and Career Survey
Integrated mobility; Artificial intelligence; Predictive motion control; Sensors and control system inputs; Asset Management; Cybersecurity
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This article collection contains several articles on how automation and controls are helping human-machine interface (HMI) hardware and software advance.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Future of oil and gas projects; Reservoir models; The importance of SCADA to oil and gas
Automation Engineer; Wood Group
System Integrator; Cross Integrated Systems Group
Jose S. Vasquez, Jr.
Fire & Life Safety Engineer; Technip USA Inc.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me