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Solar to make natural gas more efficient

The Department of Energy is developing a way to use solar power to make natural gas power plants more energy-efficient.

The system combines solar energy and natural gas to create a fuel called syngas. Using syngas, power plants can use about 20 percent less fuel to generate electricity.

The system will be tested at the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington.


Credit: PNNL

Credit: PNNL


“Our system will enable power plants to use less natural gas to produce the same amount of electricity they already make,” said PNNL engineer Bob Wegeng.

“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.”

The solar energy systems are based on concentrating solar power, which uses mirrors to concentrate the sun’s heat to a central point to heat up the natural gas flowing through it. A chemical reaction converts the natural gas to syngas.

PNNL’s systems will be installed in front of natural gas power plants to turn them into hybrid solar-gas plants; the syngas produced has a higher energy content than natural gas, which is why less of it can be used to make the same amount of energy.

Eventually, the team wants the system to produce energy at a cost of 6 cents per kWh by 2020, which would both make the hybrid system competitive with fossil fueled power plants and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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