Sandia Laboratories to Receive $10.5 Million to Design a Cheaper Solar Energy System

Solar energy technology entities are witnessing a lot of dynamism and attracting early-stage research and development funding. Sandia National Laboratories will receive $10.5 million to research and design a cheaper and more efficient solar energy system from the United States Department of Energy (DoE).

The laboratory is working on a technology to improve concentrating solar power systems. Concentrating solar power systems use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on a tower. The heat generated in the process is concentrated sunlight, and is absorbed by either a solid, liquid, or gas. This can be used immediately to generate electricity or can also be stored. This technology’s major advantage is that it can generate renewable energy in the absence of sun and without using batteries for storage.

Sandia’s proposed system uses sand-like ceramic particles to absorb and store the heat from the concentrated sunlight. Sandia already has developed the world’s first high-temperature falling particle receiver, and this research will refine and integrate that system into a complete pilot plant.

“We have demonstrated a prototype for the continuously circulating falling particles, and now we are adding six hours of storage, a 1 MW heat exchanger and a particle lift to demonstrate the entire thermal system,” said Cliff Ho, Sandia’s lead engineer on the project.



At present, a high temperature concentrating solar power system can heat a substance to 565 degrees Celsius. The Sandia team is using its system with its sand-like ceramic particles to reach temperatures above 700 Celsius.  This system with built in storage will improve efficiency and lower the cost of electricity.

The project will be executed in three phases: First, the team will work on a pilot plant and identify its design, components, cost, performance, etc. The second phase will entail a detailed proposal that includes the final concept of the plant.  The final phase of the project will involve building and operating the plant.

So far, CSP based projects have lost out to PV-based projects due to higher costs. After receiving billions of dollars in venture capital funding 10 years ago, CSP technology couldn’t compete with cheaper crystalline silicon modules. It remains to be seen if this new technology can achieve a breakthrough.

Image credit: Sandia Laboratories