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Molten Salt-Based Solar Power Plant

ScuttleMonkey posted about 7 years ago | from the would-you-like-fries-with-that dept.


rcastro0 writes "Hamilton Sundstrand, a division of United Technologies, announced today that it will start to commercialize a new type of solar power plant. A new company called SolarReserve will be created to provide heat-resistant pumps and other equipment, as well as the expertise in handling and storing salt that has been heated to more than 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit. According to venture capitalist Vinod Khosla 'Three percent of the land area of Morocco could support all of the electricity for Western Europe.' Molten Salt storage is already used in Nevada's Solar One power plant. Is this the post-hydrocarbon world finally knocking?"

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welcome to slashdong! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21887864)

suck it long and suck it hard

Sean Connery?!? Is That You? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888048)

suck it long and suck it hard
I'll take the Penis Mightier for $100, Alex.

No, it be the grammuh police (-1, Offtopic)

huckamania (533052) | about 7 years ago | (#21887874)

and they got a warrant.

Re:No, it be the grammuh police (0, Offtopic)

huckamania (533052) | about 7 years ago | (#21887956)

Even more offtopic...

Right now, there are three posts and yet from the score, nine moderation points have been given, all of them negative. Is that the admins? Hrrmm.

Re:No, it be the grammuh police (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888114)

I hope so. I wish the admins would pay more attention and mod all posts from these fucking grammar Nazis offtopic, including this one. They're not insightful. They are simply pedantic pricks with nothing better to do from the dark of their parents' basement.

I mean, who gives a fuck? Really.

Re:No, it be the grammuh police (3, Funny)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | about 7 years ago | (#21888322)

I'm more more surprised that no one has yet made a grammar comment with a mocking pirate theme, like,

"Arrr, I think this be post-hydriecarba world knockin on 'r door, matey! It be a danger too, since less global waaaarmin means less 'f us!"

Easy source of power (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21887886)

Round up the niggers, scrape the salt off their ashy skin and power the East Coast indefinitely!

ACs own /. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21887918)

niggers suck

Mobile Thermal Battery (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21887924)

I once had an idea to create a type of land locomotive using this type of technology. Basically it would be a huge truck with a molten salt tank converting water into steam. I am a steampunk!!! But a road accident with molten salt would be very dangerous; melt aspalt, HAZMAT concerns, etc. But that molten salt isn't cheap, nor is the equipment to handle it. Y'all just have to wait until I can crack hydrogen from water with my laser...

Alert Halliburton! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21887940)

I mean niggerburton! LOLOLOL

sun renewable? (2, Funny)

achilles777033 (1090811) | about 7 years ago | (#21887944)

The system's main energy source, the sun, is renewable and costs nothing.

So Gene Wolfe was right?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_the_new_sun/ [wikipedia.org]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Urth_of_the_New_Sun/ [wikipedia.org]

Re:sun renewable? (5, Funny)

rustalot42684 (1055008) | about 7 years ago | (#21888324)

I got in trouble for that in grade 5 when I pointed out that the sun would eventually die out. I was told "Well, it's not going to die out in our lifetimes". I replied with "So are oil and gas renewable resources if they aren't depleted before we die?". The teacher put on my report card " ... seems to have trouble distinguishing between renewable and non-renewable resources."

Pretty light on detail (4, Informative)

AshtangiMan (684031) | about 7 years ago | (#21887948)

Don't current adsorption chillers use solar heat/ molten salt? A pretty week summary but perhaps someone out there knows how this works . . .

Re:Pretty light on detail (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | about 7 years ago | (#21888208)

I'm thinking the heat from the panels is somehow concentrated and used to heat and melt salt. Then when the sun isn't out, the salt gives off heat and turns the turbine so there's constant power. Sounds inefficient to me. Plus wouldn't they want to use something that ohhhhh you know stores and conducts heat well? You know like a giant block of metal instead of salt.

Re:Pretty light on detail (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888378)

are you a retard?

Re:Pretty light on detail (2, Insightful)

bluelip (123578) | about 7 years ago | (#21888478)

The guy above me may be correct.

Specific heat capacity and the ability to move the energy store are more important than the rate at which the material conducts thermal energy.

Re:Pretty light on detail (5, Informative)

modecx (130548) | about 7 years ago | (#21888514)

Metals can be a great conductor alright, but most aren't all that great at storing heat, especially compared to water, which has every metal beat to a margin greater than 5:1. At any rate, you misunderstand the purpose of the molten salt. It's there to move heat alright, but not entirely through heat conduction. Heat conduction is far too slow a process be used in a multi megawatt power plant. The molten salt is there because it's pumpable, so that it can quickly gather up a bunch of energy from the reflectors, and just as quickly dump it through conduction when the heat is used to make steam. Water is king, in terms of storing heat, unfortunately it turns to gas at a relatively low temperature. Fortunately, it can be stored under pressure, unfortunately the pressure goes up very much at very high temperatures, which makes containing it more expensive, more dangerous and generally harder to do.

Heat engines also require a big temperature gradient to do work at high efficiency, which makes using steam directly a harder proposal. Molten salt is well understood in used as a coolant in some types of nuclear reactors, and it works well for this purpose, and that's why it's used.

Nuclear's the future. (5, Insightful)

urcreepyneighbor (1171755) | about 7 years ago | (#21887958)

Is this be the post-hydrocarbon world finally knocking?
A "post-hydrocarbon world" has been available for a long time - nuclear. She's been knocking for so long that her hand is sore.

While I would love to believe some form of solar power would meet the world's needs, it simply isn't feasible with current technology.

We'll probably have wormholes, sexbots and universal prosperity before solar can meet the demand. :)

Re:Nuclear's the future. (3, Funny)

Smordnys s'regrepsA (1160895) | about 7 years ago | (#21887998)

Ah, but didn't you hear [slashdot.org] , the sexbots will meet the demand!

Re:Nuclear's the future. (2, Funny)

B3ryllium (571199) | about 7 years ago | (#21888354)

With apologies to The Tick ... Fission is a harsh mistress.

Nuclear is not the future.. (2, Interesting)

cybrthng (22291) | about 7 years ago | (#21888406)

The energy cost with refining, processing, storing and disposing of nuclear materials makes solar look like a bargain. Nuclear fanatics seem to forget the process it takes from digging up something that is one of the rarest elements on our planet and then disposing of such elements when we are done.

Re:Nuclear is not the future.. (1)

urcreepyneighbor (1171755) | about 7 years ago | (#21888616)

For the record, I'm not a "nuclear fanatic". I'd love to build a Dyson sphere [wikipedia.org] , but - again - the problem is current technology.

For the average person living out in the middle of nowhere, yes - installing a half dozen solar panels (or a windmill) is a helluva lot cheaper and easier than building a nuclear plant. However, if you want to power a modern city... well, you quickly run out of roofs and open spaces for the panels.

If I ever have a cabin... home... compound... in the middle of nowhere, you can bet I'll have a few panels. And barbed wire. :)

Re:Nuclear is not the future.. (5, Insightful)

Entropius (188861) | about 7 years ago | (#21888660)

What are you smoking?

It requires an absolutely tiny amount of uranium to run a nuclear plant, compared to the 10,000 tons/day that a 1GW coal plant uses. Uranium is rare, but you don't actually need that much *of* it. 95% of the fuel used in fission plants can be reprocessed. Coal producers are chopping off the tops of entire *mountains* in Appalachia;

"Disposal" isn't as big a problem as it's made out to be; reprocessing reduces the amount of waste produced tremendously, and storing a little waste for a time is a whole lot better than *not* storing it and dumping it into the atmosphere, as we're doing with coal.

There are other forms of power generation than nuclear, but at the moment it is the only proven, scalable, clean, and economical alternative to fossil fuels for power generation. Perhaps solar-thermal (as in this article) or geothermal or tidal power or some sort of wind power can be used to carry a lot of the load, but nuclear power is available now, and the only thing lacking is the political will to implement it.

France had that political will, and now they have the cheapest power and the cleanest air in Europe.

Re:Nuclear's the future. (1)

hamelis (820185) | about 7 years ago | (#21888476)

Solar meets all our current demands, whatever "form" the (very old, in the case of uranium) solar energy may be stored in. You may want to re-evaluate, or at least rephrase. :)

Re:Nuclear's the future. (1)

nsayer (86181) | about 7 years ago | (#21888594)

Well, when you speak of "solar" energy, most folks assume you mean the star around which Earth orbits. You know, "Sol [wiktionary.org] ." The root of the word "solar."

All the elements of which the Earth is composed other than Hydrogen and Helium, however, came from the innards of other stars that went nova. So that plutonium is, in fact, not actually solar. The various hydrocarbons that we combust and the inertial conversion (hydro and wind power) are certainly derived from solar power, but nuclear ain't.

Re:Nuclear's the future. (2, Informative)

soul_well (1143717) | about 7 years ago | (#21888544)

Not so. Solar is closer to meeting our needs than you may realize. Nanosolar has been in the news recently for producing its first runs of third generation solar panels. These are essentially printable sheets of foil that are cheap and easy to produce.

The NYT quotes Nansolar's founder and CEO Martin Roscheisen saying, "With a $1-per-watt panel, it is possible to build $2-per-watt systems." That $2-per-watt figure comes from the Energy Department, the cost of building a new coal plant.

source [infoworld.com]

The future is here, and it isn't nuclear.

"Flow my tears, the policeman said" (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21887960)

That policeman was a nigger.

post hydrocarbon already here (5, Insightful)

thule (9041) | about 7 years ago | (#21887970)

" Is this be the post-hydrocarbon world finally knocking?".....

It was here 50 years ago with nuclear power. Thankfully, it's finally getting attention again.

post slogans already here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888112)

"It was here 50 years ago with nuclear power. Thankfully, it's finally getting attention again."

A chicken in every pot and a nuclear plant in every basement.

Re:post hydrocarbon already here (5, Insightful)

BlueParrot (965239) | about 7 years ago | (#21888148)

On a related note, nuclear engineers were using molten salts decades ago, and even developed a special corrosion resistant alloy, Hastelloy-N, to deal with the corrosion problems. However, the molten salt system turned out to be more expensive than water based technology, thou this may change if thermochemical production of hydrogen kicks of.

Essentially, proponents of solar power usually like to fantasize about theoretical advances in solar technology, while simultaneously refusing to recognise advances in nuclear technology. As an example, electric cars are usually touted as being CO2 neutral "if the electricity comes from renewables". It is outright obvious that this remains true with nuclear as well, but that is scary and hence rarely mentioned. Similarily advances in electric storage is usually touted as a means of allowing solar to be used for baseload, but rarely is it pointed out that the same tech coudl allow nuclear to deliver peak-energy at increased efficiency by running the plant at its maximum output even when demand is low.


A few notes and questions (4, Insightful)

stomv (80392) | about 7 years ago | (#21888414)

1. Nuclear power is not carbon neutral. Uranium is mined, and nobody is running mining equipment on biodiesel, nor are they transporting it to power plants using biodiesel, ethanol, or even renewable generated electricity on electric locomotives. To be sure, the amount of carbon is extremely low per kWh of electricity generated, but very small > 0, even for very small cases of very small.

2. As you know, nuclear proponents continually ignore the major immediate problem with nuclear power -- waste storage. Nobody wants more glass-encased nuclear waste in their neighborhood, and presently nobody wants some other neighborhood's nuclear waste being transported through their neighborhood. The nuclear industry has got to find technical and political solutions to these problems before society will embrace nuclear as a green solution. I'm not arguing that burning coal or oil is safer or cleaner than nuclear, just that any change to a status quo requires more than a slight or obscured imbalance, which is how the public currently perceives the status quo.

3. What is Hubbart's Peak for uranium? I have no idea, but it surely must have one.

4. Which nations have substantial amounts of useful uranium? What would the balance of power be if those nations became the new Saudi Arabia of energy?

5. Solar off-peak is simply not a problem, not for a long time. Peak demand is highly correlated with sunshine in most of the world -- solar could serve quite effectively as the peaking plant, relying on other types of generation for base load. Electric storage is just not a major issue for solar -- it might become one for wind but it wouldn't be that hard to operate other green energy plants in a negative correlation to wind, ie burn woodchips when the wind isn't blowing, but not when the wind is blowing.

6. That said, plug in cars might change that formulation substantially, since most people would plug in their cars at night thereby adding demand off-peak [and off-sun]. If/when that happens, much of (5) becomes moot and there'd be some shifting of nighttime use [industrial, it's cheaper] to daytime and there'd be encouragement for folks to charge during the day [plug in jacks at car parks] to help keep demand during the day higher, when production due to solar is higher.

7. Ultimately, this doesn't matter. Solar production in the US is well less than 1%. Even at 10% there won't be a necessary substantial change in infrastructures or demand shaping. So, until then, more of every kind of renewable electricity generation is better, and none of it will create challenges. And, of course, nuclear may or may not be greenish, but it is not renewable.

Re:A few notes and questions (4, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | about 7 years ago | (#21888610)

3. A long, long way away when you consider seawater extraction, and even further with breeders, incl. thorium. Sure, it's quite expensive in comparison to mining, but the cost of fuel isn't the real cost in nuclear power -- it's paying for your reactor construction and decomission that kills you.

4. Ignoring seawater? Australia by far, at 24% of known reserves. Other significant sources include Kazakhstan, Canada, South Africa, Namibia, Brazil, Russia, the US, and Uzbekistan.

Re:post hydrocarbon already here (2, Interesting)

darklordyoda (899383) | about 7 years ago | (#21888532)

That is true, that molten salt is more expensive, but look at the overall picture. Although the working fluid is more expensive than water, water has this pesky habit of undergoing phase change, and pressures are MUCH higher. This means the cost goes into transporting the water/steam and even pressurizing whole structures, and ultimately it gets pretty hairy.

Molten salt, on the other hand, if chosen well, will not expand as it heats/cools and can flow slowly, reducing the engineering hassle for a reactor. In other words, the molten salt requires a larger initial investment, but upkeep is lower. This solar system they are talking about seems like a variant of these molten reactors, only replacing the core with a solar concentrator/collector.

Re:post hydrocarbon already here (1)

Jules IV (1010773) | about 7 years ago | (#21888634)

Nuclear power is very efficient and definetly competitive on some points on the other side the only 'free' energy with infinite fuel is solar. Nuclear fuel is limited in time and the reserves are pretty scarce. So lets take this thing forward, the future of energy consumption lies ahead, with the architecture of a power grid that would run on huge solar networks scattered around the world for max exposure to photons that would run 24/7.

Re:post hydrocarbon already here (0, Redundant)

kestasjk (933987) | about 7 years ago | (#21888310)

But the nuclear safety inspectors just sit around all day and ignore big safety problems, the people running the plants are corrupt, and fish will be mutated to have 8 eyes. I saw it in a documentary my kids were watching.

Re:post hydrocarbon already here (2, Interesting)

jonwil (467024) | about 7 years ago | (#21888490)

Unfortunatly, nuclear power will never be as good as it could be as long as the energy companies are not allowed to use technologies like breeder reactors and reprocessing because one of the steps just happens to produce something that could be used in a nuclear bomb if the wrong people got their hands on it.

Of course, the same people forget to mention that a breeder cycle with reprocessing will produce less waste that needs to be stored.

Waste salt (5, Funny)

Threni (635302) | about 7 years ago | (#21887974)

I hope they don't start dumping waste salt in the oceans...

Re:Waste salt (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | about 7 years ago | (#21888600)

Actually, a lot of sea life depends on the water staying within a given range of salinity to be found in ocean water. I do doubt that we'd be able to dump enough in to really affect that, especially if we extract sea salt in the first place. As long as you dump it where you got it, no real probs (BTW - does salt retain radioactivity? Can't remember offhand if it does or not).

Fortunately, we have lots of places to dump used terrestrial salt without hosing-up plant or animal life... like this place [utah.com] for instance.



Electricity for the masses. (1)

PixieDust (971386) | about 7 years ago | (#21887976)

Is this be the post-hydrocarbon world finally knocking?"

Only available in locations where ebonics be the #1 language suckah!

On a more serious note, 3% of Moroccos land mass could provide power for ALL of Western Europe? Can I ask what possible reason there could be beyond corruption and greed for this NOT to be used? Somehow I think that this kind of technology, no matter the initial cost, would be an absolute boon and can see no reason why it shouldn't be adopted.

Pollution form fossil fuels will be significantly reduced. We can finally move, at least on the consumer side, to mainly electric (no hybrid BS) vehicles, and overall be far better off than we are now. The health benefits are enormous, not to mention the economic and political benefit of nations no longer frothing at the mouth for oil.

Yea, I should probably wake up now.

Re:Electricity for the masses. (1)

vajaradakini (1209944) | about 7 years ago | (#21888144)

Can I ask what possible reason there could be beyond corruption and greed for this NOT to be used? Somehow I think that this kind of technology, no matter the initial cost, would be an absolute boon and can see no reason why it shouldn't be adopted.

I'm going to guess it's all the rampant corruption and greed in the world. This is generally the problem.

Re:Electricity for the masses. (2, Insightful)

WaltBusterkeys (1156557) | about 7 years ago | (#21888364)

Don't forget transmission costs--even if Morocco produced enough power for western Europe, the power would still be in Africa instead of Europe. Long-distance power lines are expensive, vulnerable to failure, and lose (at best) 10% of power transmitted. There's water between Europe and Africa, meaning that they'd either have to string really big lines across Gibralter or run a giant copper cable. Going underground through cable is expensive and leads to larger power losses because you can't run the same high voltages in the middle of a salt bath as you can from high-tension wires.

All of that assumes that having a single point of failure for all power in western Europe would be a good idea. Seems like it would make a lucrative target for political disruptions, a massive piece of negotiating leverage for Morocco, and vulnerable to all kinds of natural disasters.

And don't get me started on microwave power transmission. Haven't we all played enough SimCity to know how that can go horribly wrong?

If it really were that easy then greed would have caused Bronson (or somebody else) to have done it already. He's incredibly greedy but usually tells established business to go bugger itself and launches disruptive technologies when there's an opportunity to undercut the market.

Re:Electricity for the masses. (1)

vajaradakini (1209944) | about 7 years ago | (#21888434)

Yes, this is also a huge problem. I don't think that the environmental impact from such a power transmission is particularly tiny either.

Re:Electricity for the masses. (3, Interesting)

Rob Riggs (6418) | about 7 years ago | (#21888262)

On a more serious note, 3% of Moroccos land mass could provide power for ALL of Western Europe? Can I ask what possible reason there could be beyond corruption and greed for this NOT to be used? Somehow I think that this kind of technology, no matter the initial cost, would be an absolute boon and can see no reason why it shouldn't be adopted.

Well, according to the article it is being used and will be used more in the future. The issue is that it takes time, money and a lot of land (3% of Morocco [cia.gov] may seem small (446,300 km^2 * .03 = 13389 km^2), but it's larger than some European countries (think countries that start with the letter "L") and about 1/3 of the size of the Netherlands.

It may take Hamilton Sundstrand and others quite a few years to ramp up production to the point where they can consider converting even 100 km^2 of land over to solar energy production.

Re:Electricity for the masses. (3, Insightful)

vijayiyer (728590) | about 7 years ago | (#21888388)

Except that you can't easily get electricity from Morocco to Europe. Transmission of electricity isn't lossless or free.

I am be (3, Funny)

mi (197448) | about 7 years ago | (#21887980)

Is this be the post-hydrocarbon world finally knocking?

Slashdot editors are be the worst ever...

SciAm article (2, Informative)

snaildarter (1143695) | about 7 years ago | (#21888002)

Yes, hot salty, um, fluid is real solution to the world's energy problems. There is an excellent article in Scientific American about it in the latest issue.

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan [sciam.com]

Unfortunately, it will take massive investments to make this stuff really viable. Fortunately, some European governments are stepping up with real money. Unfortunately, America hasn't for about a decade.

And yet (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 7 years ago | (#21888178)

The vast majority of the RD that has been done in alterantive has been in America. EU is simply stepping up to bring the RD to production. Even now, the top Solar Cell work is still from silicon valley, silicon mountain, even new york. The concept of using salts was RD by boeing in 2001, with about a dozen companie here already working with it. What is NOT happening is that W. is not pushing Alternative or even Nukes to any large degree. But all the VC is abuzz here. And there is LOADS of money flowing there.

Re:And yet (1)

darklordyoda (899383) | about 7 years ago | (#21888628)

The vast majority of the RD that has been done in alternative has been in America.
This is somewhat true. There are fewer, but still strong, nuclear engineering departments around the country that continue work in nuclear power production, mostly using money from the power companies and the government, but sometimes it seems like half the grad students are French. Also remember, only the core really works with the nuclear material and a great deal of research work can be done with respect to thermal hydraulics in other very closely related disciplines like mechanical engineering.

vinod is late to the game (4, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | about 7 years ago | (#21888018)

There are a number of companies doing this. One is looking to work in conjunction with POwer plants esp Nukes. The waste heat can actually kick the salts up a bit, and then solar pushes is that much higher. The nice thing is that this can be used on really hot days as a means of cooling off the waste heat from the nuke prior to putting in streams. Where this might get really interesting is to combine with geo-thermal power. The same sets of solar concentrators can be used to kick up heated water/steam from the ground and make the generators more efficient. During the daytime, the generators can run at full tilt, while at night, when it is just geo-thermal, then generators run at less efficient speeds.

I know this is somewhat OT (4, Funny)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | about 7 years ago | (#21888022)

Nuclear reactors can be made smaller and more efficient if they use liquid sodium for cooling. I think this may be because they can run at a higher temperature, which is more harmonious with the laws of thermodynamics.

But the US Navy refused to build any sodium-cooled submarine reactors. Finally a Congressional committee hauled Admiral Rickover in to a hearing to testify as to why he wasn't making better use of taxpayer's money.

To which he replied "This is what happens when sodium gets wet," and he threw a chunk of sodium into some water.

Re:I know this is somewhat OT (2, Informative)

MBCook (132727) | about 7 years ago | (#21888158)

There WAS a liquid sodium reactor in the US. The seals in the cooling system seals started to fail leading to severe consequences. See Wikipeida [wikipedia.org] .

Re:I know this is somewhat OT (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888534)

The seals didn't come apart because of sodium, they came apart because the other 90% of the article demonstrates that it was run by fuckwits who had no clue what they were doing and probably didn't bother with a maintenance schedule since they were having too much fun shooting barrels of toxic waste to make them explode (unfortunately they were unable to kill any demons with the blast, only other scientists).

Several liquid metal cooled reactors, actually (2, Informative)

mbessey (304651) | about 7 years ago | (#21888686)

The first US nuclear power reactor (EBR-1) was a liquid-metal cooled breeder reactor, as was the Fermi 1 reactor near Detroit, Michigan. The Fermi reactor had a minor meltdown accident in 1963. Overall, the safety record of liquid-metal reactors hasn't been particularly impressive, at least in the power-generation arena.

Re:I know this is somewhat OT (3, Informative)

BlueParrot (965239) | about 7 years ago | (#21888304)

To which he replied "This is what happens when sodium gets wet," and he threw a chunk of sodium into some water.

Care to guess what happens when 300 C warm and radioactive water goes from 15 mega pascal to neutral pressure within a fraction of a second after a coolant pipe bursts? No matter if it is sodium or water primary coolant leaking is a Bad Thing (tm) , and sodium has the advantage that you don't have to keep it under pressure, thus reducing the chance of a leak greatly.

In addition sodium is practically non-corrosive to steal, while boric-acid spiked water at 300 C is quite agressive. Sodium also has a much better heat conductivity than water, so the reactor won't melt down if the primary cooling pumps fail ( natural convection of the coolant is enough to cool the spent fuel once the chain reaction has stopped, as it will do due to thermal expansion of the fuel rods ).

Having said this, my favourite candidate for coolant is molten-lead. Like sodium you don't have to pressurise it, it doesn't react with water or air, it won't boil even if you overheat teh ractor so much that the steel melts, and it is an excellent radiation shield against gamma-radiation. Main issue is corrosion, but 20+ years of research has produced alloys that are very stable in molten lead, so you could expect comercial plants using it within a deacde or two.

Re:I know this is somewhat OT (1)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | about 7 years ago | (#21888390)

So let me get this straight. They were afraid of the sodium getting wet, supposedly because the submarines could leak. But the fact that they had poisonous radiactive isotopes aboard didn't bother them? I mean, if they could prevent the radioactives from leaking out, they could prevent the sodium from getting wet. If they couldn't prevent the sodium from getting wet...

Re:I know this is somewhat OT (5, Informative)

Rob Riggs (6418) | about 7 years ago | (#21888448)

You admit that it's somewhat OT, but did you also know it's mostly BS?

Two competing concepts for cooling nuclear submarine reactors were available, cooling by pressurized water and by liquid metal. Rickover wanted to try both of them, so he arranged with Westinghouse in 1949 to investigate the pressurized water approach, and with General Electric in 1950 to pursue a liquid sodium approach.

Rickover's faith in nuclear submarines was vindicated in January 1955, when the USS Nautilus reported that it was underway entirely with nuclear power. The Nautilus employed the pressurized water method of reactor cooling. The Navy's second nuclear submarine, USS Seawolf, was powered by a reactor using liquid sodium.

Hmm. My Dad was a reactor engineer for the Navy (1)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | about 7 years ago | (#21888668)

Maybe I don't have all the details right, but that's more or less what he said.

Anyone in-the-know care to comment? (1)

Bryan Ischo (893) | about 7 years ago | (#21888026)

Are we going to get interesting comments about the technology in use here? Is it practical? Why is molten salt used instead of something else? Isn't that dangerous? Can't birds get zapped if they fly too close to the collector where thousands of mirrors are pointing? Do we even care? Why is it so expensive to build an array of a bunch of mirrors and a collector? Is it dangerous to be near this thing, where I suppose you could be blinded if you glanced in the wrong direction?

Or are we going to just get more boring re-hashes of the same useless arguments about gas prices, global warming, the uselessness of alternative energies, etc etc ad nauseum?

Re:Anyone in-the-know care to comment? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888238)

> Is it practical?

For bumfuck middle of nowhere areas, solar is practical.

> Can't birds get zapped if they fly too close to the collector where thousands of mirrors are pointing? Do we even care?

No, we don't let a piddly thing like that stop us. We care only enough to clean the birds off. Really, fuck the birds.

> Is it dangerous to be near this thing, where I suppose you could be blinded if you glanced in the wrong direction?

I guess that depends on how efficiently the collector absorbs sunlight.

Danger Will Robinson! (1)

deanoaz (843940) | about 7 years ago | (#21888028)

>>> The technology was developed by Rocketdyne, which was acquired by United Technologies Corp., Hamilton's parent company, in 2005. Rocketdyne is the prime contractor for electric power systems on the International Space Station.

This sounds suspiciously close to YoYoDyne. You know, the ones who diverted funds from the vital U.S. Truncheon Bomber program into a private project back in the '80's.

We need to send a crack Congressional investigator to look into this immediately!

Re:Danger Will Robinson! (2, Informative)

MachineShedFred (621896) | about 7 years ago | (#21888318)

While I'm sure your post was in joking fashion, Rocketdyne was the company who made the five F-1 motors in the first stage of the Saturn V.

I know, I know... why ruin jokes with facts! Why, indeed - I'm an ass. That's why!

Article reads like a business deal. (5, Informative)

Kuukai (865890) | about 7 years ago | (#21888038)

If you're more interested in the technology, try looking at this [news.com] . It doesn't work "like a hydroelectric plant." (spinning a turbine doesn't = "hydroelectric") It simply uses an array of mirrors to aim sunlight at salt and heat it. The molten salt can then be used to steam water and turn a turbine, or saved for later.

Still limited by Carnot efficiency (3, Informative)

compumike (454538) | about 7 years ago | (#21888040)

Any system that does a thermal -> mechanical conversion is limited by the Carnot efficiency [wikipedia.org] . This system would be limited by the temperatures of the hot side (sun's heating of the salt, balanced with losses from the pipes) and the cold side (presumably atmosphere or a cold river). In contrast, a solar cell directly rectifies electromagnetic field energy (light), so it doesn't obey the Carnot limit. That's why for a system like the one in this article, there's a need to push the operating hot-side temperature up as much as possible.

Educational microcontroller kits for the digital generation. [nerdkits.com]

Re:Still limited by Carnot efficiency (2, Informative)

GameMaster (148118) | about 7 years ago | (#21888506)

That will only matter if we actually manage to develop, and mass produce, photovoltaic cells that reach anywhere near the efficiency of traditional heat engine generator facilities at a reasonable price per watt over the life of the panel. Much like the fuel cell, we've had the photovoltaic technology for a very long time and have yet to produce any truly efficient products that weren't extremely high priced specialty items for things like satellites and such. It would be great if we manage to come out with an economical device, but past experience suggests that we shouldn't hold our breath for a major breakthrough anymore than we should for other similar technology such as fuel cells, fusion power, or Artificial Intelligence (all of which are perpetually X years away from becoming practical and X never seems to shrink).

Might be better with smart power... (4, Interesting)

tempest69 (572798) | about 7 years ago | (#21888056)

The concept is this.. The power company auctions off power in real time to devices which automatically bid for "cheap energy blocks" The cheap energy blocks never exceed the price of standard energy. This allows the power company to adjust load based on production from non-predictable sources. So when a windfarm starts going crazy with power, the air conditioner in your house can go full steam for quarter price. As the number of smart devices increases, the prices can auction to higher values. As smart devices get more vogue, we can rely on sporadic power generation more and more. Right now, the power companies predict usage, with little control, with smart energy, they can tune usage much more efficiently.

The concept of storing the energy as thermal is fine, but reducing the amount of energy swaps is going to be the more efficient way to use the power. The efficiency that they can store energy and re-convert it is going to determine how low a cheap power block can sell for.

Anyway, just a crazy rant.. enjoy,


Current elec usage, maybe not elec cars (1)

redelm (54142) | about 7 years ago | (#21888066)

The claim seems exaggerated, but works: wiki tells me Morocco has 446,550 km2. crunching the numbers, 4% at 100% efficiency only gives 5.8 TW, or 19 kW per capita.

Another twist (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 7 years ago | (#21888072)

is that if vinod is going to build the equipment to handle the salts, he might be making these not just large, but also small ones. By building small ones, it will enable distributed storage. That may not sound that useful, but it is just parallelism for storage; Makes it much more resilient; can be used to power the local area, useful for disaster times, such as 9/11, katrina, snow falls, etc. it allows for small start-ups to be created that store the power at night (say at 1 penny, but put it back k on the line during the day at 5 cents). That alone would encourage small coops and business ventures. Energy storage might be the next big rush.

Re:Another twist (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888400)

More importantly, distributed energy source and storage minimizes energy transportation losses plus costs associated with high-voltage power lines

No, (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 7 years ago | (#21888080)

"Is this be the post-hydrocarbon world finally knocking?" No.
What it may be is a good start at ending the use of hydrocarbons for electrical power generation. Throw in some Wind, nuclear, some photovoltaics, some hydro, and maybe some biomass and you could reduce our use of coal, oil, and natural gas for power generation a lot.

This is one of the first good energy storage systems I have heard about. Yes it could really help with making solar thermal power a lot more practical.

For transportation I think we will be using hydrocarbons for a long time. The good thing is that you can make them from water, air, and electricity if you have too and you have enough cheap electricity.

Re:No, (1)

tsotha (720379) | about 7 years ago | (#21888202)

If energy is cheap enough to make hydrocarbons, then we can make hydrogen and dispense with the unwanted byproducts. Or do you mean to say we can make hydrocabon fuels directly from atmospheric carbon?

Re:No, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888568)

Its not from atmospheric carbon, but this might be what he was talking about.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_depolymerization [wikipedia.org]

Re:No, (1)

Bryansix (761547) | about 7 years ago | (#21888370)

It looks like Hydrogen Fuel Cell Hybrids are the wave of the future.

Molten salt? (1)

ErikZ (55491) | about 7 years ago | (#21888094)

I thought it was sodium heated to a liquid state. Not "Molten Salt".

Do the math, folks (1, Troll)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | about 7 years ago | (#21888100)

Molten salt? Wowee!

Let's do the math, folks.

Presuming you want to melt salt, you probably need a whole lot of mirrors. Compute the cost of a square meter of mirror, one that will last for twenty years. Now add the cost of a mirror support, one that will keep it aimed at the collector. The sun moves, so you'll need a aiming device. Estimate the cost of an aiming device that can last for say twenty years and survive typical weather conditions over twenty years. Don't forget wind gusts!

I suspect you'll have trouble getting the cost down to an economical level. By about a factor of thirty. Even assuming economies of scale. Good luck selling your idea to the bankers.

Re:Do the math, folks (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | about 7 years ago | (#21888218)

I somehow missed the math in all that generalized ranting.

The real problem is economics, however. Not necessarily in the way you mean because this is actually relatively robust and proven tech, but economics none-the-less.

People aren't going to get behind it because it would involve a lot of new taxes. Industry isn't going to get behind it because fossil fuels are still cheap(er than alternatives), and the infrastructure around them is well established and proven. The government isn't going to get behind it because A) they're all too scared to raise taxes, and B) if they throw half a trillion dollars at this stuff and something new comes up that's 10% more effective for the same price, they'll never live it down.

In short:
People won't push for it until the energy produced is the cheapest they can buy.
Corporations won't adopt it until it's already established.
Governments won't lead the way because they aren't stupid enough to think that they can guess where the future of energy generation is going to be in 2050.

Basically, economics.

You don't mean math, you mean feasability (1)

Bryansix (761547) | about 7 years ago | (#21888450)

You are right about the mirrors. I am about 2 hours away from a solar generation plant here in California and when you drive by the plant you notice that a good 10% of the mirrors are broken or have peices missing. I'm sure this will go up with time so it will cost money to keep it in good working order.

Re:Do the math, folks (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888468)

Gasoline? Wowee!
Let's do the math, folks.

Presuming you want to use gasoline, first you are going to have to FIND some crude oil. This is difficult and expensive because most crude oil is hiding deep underground. Then you are going to have to dig a well to bring it up. You will have to pump it, store it and move it to where it is needed. You are going to have to move A LOT of it, so you will need some real super tankers (each one will cost hundreds of millions of dollars just to build) You will have to "refine" the oil into gasoline, and then transport THAT. Every step along the way will not only cost money, but will consume some of the crude oil you dug up. It seems unlikely that there will be anything left to trickle out the pipe at the end.

I suspect you'll have trouble getting the cost down to an economical level. By about a factor of thirty. Even assuming economies of scale. Good luck selling your idea to the bankers.

(isn't made up math fun?)

Re:Do the math, folks (1)

FroBugg (24957) | about 7 years ago | (#21888486)

Because fossil fuel power plants don't have any costs associated with them?

Considering the costs of construction, fuel, operation, and everything else associated with the production, current operating solar plants produce energy at just three to four times the cost of fossil fuel plants, and this price is steadily coming down.

Your suspicion of a factor of thirty is wrong. By a factor of ten.

Colonial Thinking Not Dead (1)

nick_davison (217681) | about 7 years ago | (#21888132)

'Three percent of the land area of Morocco could support all of the electricity for Western Europe.'
1. Find a resource that'll support western Europe that's outside of western Europe.

2. Do they have a flag? No? Then they can't have a country.

3. Profit.

The only difference is that this time, we British will fight to the death to defend anyone who can also help make our chips* a little saltier.

*Note: No, "Chips" are not "Fries" for Americans. What Americans call "Chips", the English call "Crisps", certainly. However, what the English call "Chips", Americans call "What the hell is that greasy thing? It's going to kill me! Can I have some avocado and a side salad instead?!" And the English call those people "Poofters". A subtle but very important point.

Re:Colonial Thinking Not Dead (2, Funny)

Bryansix (761547) | about 7 years ago | (#21888418)

British people are totally backwards. For proof look at their use of "Fanny Fun" to refer to straight sex between a man and a woman. The only Poofters are the ridiculous people who use such a word.

Re:Colonial Thinking Not Dead (1)

Naughty Bob (1004174) | about 7 years ago | (#21888584)

Well, you don't think we want to be making babies, do you?

Fahrenheit? (1)

Naughty Bob (1004174) | about 7 years ago | (#21888134)

Aren't we nerds? If we don't use the proper units, who will?

Re:Fahrenheit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888214)


Using random units is like the british waiting for the rest of the world to adopt their crazy driving on left side... f'd up!

Even worse with respect to foreign dependence (1)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | about 7 years ago | (#21888136)

Three percent of the land area of Morocco could support all of the electricity for Western Europe.'

Great from an environmental perspective, unless you are a Moroccan. However it sounds even worse with respect to foreign dependence on energy. At least there are multiple countries/regions to buy oil from. If you out source your solar farm you are in a crisis as fast as someone can throw a switch.

How about each EU member commits 1% of its own territory (roofs count), to the EU power grid. The EU has 10x the area of Morocco, 1/3 the solar power given cloudy days and higher latitudes would seem to be indicate 1% of its land area.

pipes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888142)

What kinds of pipes could be used for such a hot substance? If the pipes aren't designed properly, they could melt, or conversely lose too much heat and the salt could just solidify... what happens then? This seems like a control nightmare to me.

Oops! (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 7 years ago | (#21888334)

Yeah, I'm sure the engineers forgot about the pipes.

New? (1)

rfuji (14076) | about 7 years ago | (#21888154)

After reading the oh so informative article, using some google-fu, and digging deep into my childhood memories I'm pretty sure that this isn't a "new type of solar plant". I remember driving by Solar One on a family trip when I was a younger. I'm guessing that the reference to Nevada's Solar One in the story is a typo. Solar One (not to be confused with Nevada's Solar One as linked in the story) used molten salt (NaNO3 and KNO3 mix) which is similar to this "new technology" (actually it was Solar Two, which was an upgrade of Solar One that used salt, but I guess you could still call it the Solar One complex or something). So the takeaways from this story are: not new technology that's not like the technology linked, but is like some technology that sounds similar to the technology linked is being commercialized. Story at 11.

Very few technical details (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 7 years ago | (#21888162)

Looks like they will use simple plane mirror heliostats to concentrate the radiation to boil water to run steam turbines. Excess heat will be used to melt salt and store it underground and that heat will be drawn during the night and overcast days. Looks like it is a question of break even periods and investment costs. But so is every solar plant of every technology.

Still our transportation sector still relies too heavily on imported oil and this technology too would not do much to alleviate it, by itself.

Knock, knock, knocking... (1)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | about 7 years ago | (#21888220)

``Is this be the post-hydrocarbon world finally knocking?''

I think it already was a matter of will, not technical ability.

Sheesh (1)

FlyByPC (841016) | about 7 years ago | (#21888232)

Is this be the post-hydrocarbon world finally knocking?

I can has bad grammar??

Time to re-think the cost justification model (2, Insightful)

oldenuf2knowbetter (124106) | about 7 years ago | (#21888280)

Articles on massive scale solar power systems almost inevitably include some sort of a comparison showing that solar power generation is not cost-competitive with systems which burn oil or natural gas as fuel. The implication is that solar systems will force consumers to pay more for electricity, thereby discouraging their construction.

There are two critical issues that such cost comparisons ignore:

1) They never account for the long-term costs of pumping more carbon dioxide (plus various pollutants) into the atmosphere and,

2) They never tell us the price of crude oil used for the cost justification.

It is extremely unlikely that any such comparison will give oil quite so much of an advantage if computed at $100+ per barrel (today's price) for imported crude. Or at $200 per barrel. Or if imported crude isn't available at any price.

Yes, I know that I ignored coal as a fuel. I live in California and every fuel-burning power plant around here runs on oil or natural gas depending on weather conditions. Coal isn't an option for pollution reasons. And we do have thousands of square miles of desert that are ideal for solar power plants.

Nothing new here. See Solar Two Mojave (3, Informative)

John Sokol (109591) | about 7 years ago | (#21888292)

I will just dump a mess of links from an old E-mail I did on this some time ago. It's all good stuff, Solar two in Mojave was also molten salt based. I knew someone who bought it after it failed and got to explore it before it was partly dismantled.


Solar two was a flat mirror array.

Search google image search with
            "solar two" Mojave

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=yermo,+ca&ie=UTF8&ll=34.871919,-116.83416&spn=0.005915,0.010042&t=h&z=17&om=1 [google.com]

Take the link above and zoom out, just below and to the right is a Parabolic glass mirrors plant

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_Two [wikipedia.org]

http://www.powerfromthesun.net/Chapter10/Chapter10new.htm [powerfromthesun.net]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Solar_Two_2003.jpg [wikipedia.org]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Solar_Two_Heliostat.jpg [wikipedia.org]

http://theothersolar.com/?m=200702 [theothersolar.com]

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/1101-10.htm [commondreams.org]

http://www.global-greenhouse-warming.com/solar-central-power-towers.html [global-gre...arming.com]

http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/edu/dees/U4735/projections/pitman/solar.elec.jpg [columbia.edu]

http://fixedreference.org/2006-Wikipedia-CD-Selection/wp/s/Solar_power.htm [fixedreference.org]
(search for "Solar two")

http://www.reia-nm.org/HTML_Docs/Solar_Thermal_Electrical.html [reia-nm.org]

http://greatgreengadgets.com/gadgets/category/solar/ [greatgreengadgets.com]

http://www.answers.com/topic/solar-thermal-energy [answers.com]

http://blogs.business2.com/greenwombat/2006/week44/index.html [business2.com]

Excellent page on many technologies - Sorry it's in Spanish.
      http://g3nergy.blogspot.com/2006_11_01_archive.html [blogspot.com]
      Search for "Australia to Build 154 MW Solar Energy Plant"
      This one is identical in design to the one in the Mojave Dessert here.

http://ludb.clui.org/ex/i/CA4965/ [clui.org] Abandoned Solar Power Plant

Steam Turbine - Sterling engine.. (1)

willy_me (212994) | about 7 years ago | (#21888298)

Few details in the link indicate how the plant will produce power. The Nevada plant uses a steam turbine so I assume that this plant does the same. But what about using a heat engine in place of a turbine? There was a story on /. a while back about using sterling engines in a solar plant. They talked of placing a small sterling engine at the center of a large parabolic dish - sounded interesting.

I like the idea of sterling engines and wonder if they could be used in conjunction with a steam turbine. The steam turbine operates as expected but a sterling engine is present where the stream in turned back into water. In essence, the waste heat from the turbine could be harvested instead of being discarded. Probably more practical in cooler climates where cooling sources are easy to find.

Just thought I would put this idea out there as I have no experience with heat engines but imagine that there is a good reason why this is not currently done.

O&M Expense (2, Informative)

sphealey (2855) | about 7 years ago | (#21888336)

Molten salt heat exchange technology isn't new, and has been tried in various forms of electric generating plant for at least 25 years to my memory (and probably a lot longer - they tried a lot of odd stuff in the 1920s and 1950s). The think to keep an eye on is projected operating and maintenance expenses over the long term. Molten salt is nasty stuff and does a lot of damage to everything it touches. Major components such as pumps have to be considered replacement rather than repair items for example. So the O&M cost projections are critical.


and without subsidies! (2, Insightful)

MrKaos (858439) | about 7 years ago | (#21888392)

I'm wondering if this is result of carbon taxes becoming inevitable. It would seem to me that some companies are positioning themselves to take advantage of funding and tax breaks that hopefully will become available in a carbon trading world. Even if the project can only address peak power demands it's certainly appears capable of offsetting a large amount of carbon production during peak energy demand times.

If this is project is feasible and is what can be achieved without subsidies I wonder what solar energy projects (and indeed other alternative energy projects) can be created with funding.

Three Percent of Morocco (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888416)

According to Wikipedia, Morocco has a land mass of 446,550 km^2. 3% of that is 13,396 km^2. That's approximately the size of Montenegro (13,812 km^2). It's more than five times as big as Luxembourg. Of course, if you point out that you'll have to dedicate five Luxembourgs to power generation, it becomes much less appealing.

According to http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/international/iealf/table64.xls [doe.gov] , Europe has 803 gigawatts of installed generation capacity.

Going to http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/nuclear/page/at_a_glance/reactors/nuke1.html [doe.gov] , and picking 5 reactors at random (Brunswick, Diablo Canyon*, Pilgrim, Surry, and Susquehanna), I see that 7.5 GW of generating capacity takes up 5,465 acres... or 22 square kilometers.

So, the land usage to supply all of Europe's electric usage (day and night) via nuclear power would be 2,354 km^2... potentially less, as it seems that it's possible to group reactors together to minimize land usage. That's less than one Luxembourg.

* Chosen less randomly than the others, since it had a cool-sounding name.

Re:Three Percent of Morocco (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888650)

Morocco is closer to the equator than Luxemburg, and probably also Montenegro, I think they may get more sunny days too.

salt - water heat exchanger: tricky (4, Informative)

smellsofbikes (890263) | about 7 years ago | (#21888428)

Here [legitreviews.com] is a shorter, and in my opinion, more informative summary. They're heating up sodium chloride salt, then using that to produce steam from water, which drives turbines. That's nice, because molten salt is fairly nasty stuff to work with.
Anything has its chemical activity rise exponentially with temperature (the Arrhenius equation) so as things get hotter, they get more chemically aggressive. Molten glass will dissolve bricks and mortar. Molten sodium and chlorine ions are even nastier -- a sodium ion is a very small object [chemguide.co.uk] , only a little larger than hydrogen -- and can diffuse into metals, weakening them and creating leaks.

whew (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21888626)

Thank god we don't have to cover 3% of morocco with sperm anymore.
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