The world leader in the development of advanced carbon and graphite materials, GrafTech International Ltd., in partnership with a team led by SENER Engineering and Systems Inc. with the participation of the University of California,
Berkeley, received a $1.15 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant to construct a high-efficiency thermal storage system for solar plants. The project is part of a $62 million DOE initiative to collaborate with industry to research and develop concentrating solar power (CSP) systems, which provide renewable low-cost electrical power. The initiative supports the government’s strategy to diversify the U.S. energy portfolio to increase the nation’s energy independence while fostering a fast-growing, clean energy economy.
With expertise spanning more than a century across numerous industries, GrafTech will apply its core capabilities and strong presence in the solar industry to partner with SENER and the university in the development of a solar plant storage system, which will be designed using technology that can extend the operating temperature range of thermal storage. In the project, GrafTech is partnering with SENER to construct a pilot plant in Seville, California, which will represent the next generation of solar plants. The university will conduct complete storage system simulation tailored to demonstrate storage plant size and characteristics, as well as test execution and test reports.
“As part of our growth strategy, GrafTech has been committed to applying our core competencies in graphite and carbon solutions to rapidly growing industries such as solar and energy production,” said GrafTech CEO Craig Shular.
“Through this grant, we have the opportunity to participate in the country’s efforts to research and develop clean, renewable sources of energy. This initiative also enables us to apply our expertise in developing custom carbon and graphite materials to further the solar industry, which ultimately will drive down the cost of energy.”
SENER has already developed up to twelve solar plants which rely on molten nitrate salts, which are pumped from a cold tank to a hot one during solar field operation, until they are emptied to produce superheated steam at the plants’ steam generation system. Higher temperature storage has a direct impact on the amount of energy that can be extracted and converted into energy, which is key to making CSP plants competitive with coal-burning plants. To ensure the pilot plant operates at a higher temperature, GrafTech will work to develop a specialized graphite material, which tolerates higher temperatures than any other material and is more economically feasible than molten salts, for use in the plant’s towers to create the most efficient thermal electricity generating process.
Additionally, GrafTech was recently awarded a DOE grant to continue to pioneer the development of lightweight, corrosion-resistant graphite-based materials used as critical components in fuel cells for hydrogen-powered automobiles, buses, forklifts and backup power applications. GrafTech foresees future applications for these materials in consumer electronics and stationary power. GrafTech also won the prestigious R&D 100 Award in 2009 for its new product line, GRAFIHX™ Flexible Heat Exchangers, a graphite solution uniquely suited for radiant floor heating systems. The R&D 100 Award honors the 100 most technologically significant products introduced in the past year.