Next-generation solar thermal energy storage technology developed in partnership with the Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative (ASTRI) has reached a major milestone, with the United States Department of Energy announcing it will fund commercial-scale testing.

The technology, which has been produced with input from CSIRO, the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide, converts sunlight into thermal energy, by heating particles to well beyond “supercritical” level, over 700 deg C. This thermal energy can then be stored, and used to power a turbine, generating on-demand electricity at any time of the day or night.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor says, “Australian research is opening up new ways to generate clean electricity and reducing emissions around the world.

“The technologies Australia is developing, and the Government is supporting, will deliver global benefits.

“Australian-developed solar cell technology is already used in more than 60 per cent of commercial solar panels globally.

“Zero emissions, dispatchable energy sources like concentrated solar thermal storage will be needed to back up increasing shares of renewable energy.”

Low-cost, grid-scale energy storage is one of five priority areas for investment under the Morrison Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap. The Biden Administration has also announced it will target low-cost energy storage.

Sandia Laboratories, a private energy R&D agency based in New Mexico, will receive $33 million (US$25 million) from the US Department of Energy to build a 1MW demonstration plant with a minimum of six hours of storage.

CSIRO – which achieved the first supercritical steam ever derived from solar energy, back in 2015 – has already built a pilot-scale facility in Newcastle. That facility will be tested for the first time in coming weeks.

Australia’s involvement in the project has been managed by ASTRI, a consortium established through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and CSIRO. It was founded to provide a coordinated, national approach to developing and demonstrating solar thermal technologies, and to facilitating commercial uptake of more efficient, higher temperature solar thermal technologies and CST systems. The focus of ASTRI’s activities is on high temperature Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) systems for energy storage, power generation and process heat.