New Zirconium Carbide Ceramic Materials Make Solar Power Generation Cheaper


Dec 8, 2022

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Zirconium carbonide ceramic material can be used in propulsion and aerospace systems as heat protection.

Conductive heat of ceramic metal plate

American scientists developed recently a new material and manufacturing method that makes use of solar energy. This allows for the generation of electricity with greater efficiency. While solar energy can also be used to generate power and store power on cloudy nights and days, solar power has a much lower cost of electricity. But, only 2% of US electricity comes from solar. Purdue University has discovered a way to increase the efficiency and practicality of solar energy. This technological innovation serves as a link between the direct competition for solar power generation and that generated by fuel power. Fuel power generation currently accounts for over 60% of total US power generation. Kenneth Sandhage from Purdue University is a professor at the Department of Materials Engineering. Next, we need to decrease the cost of solar power generation as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Electricity Generation By Turbine Generator

It is possible to not only use solar energy for thermal power generation from solar panels mounted on rooftops and farms, but also use it to create concentrated energy using solar thermal energy. Concentrated solar power plant use lenses and mirrors to capture large amounts of light. This converts solar energy to electricity. Molten salt is also produced. Once the heat is extracted from the salt, it’s transferred to supercritical CO2 which expands to make the turbine spin. The turbine engine generates more electricity using the same heat to reduce costs of solar power generation. It therefore runs at a higher operating temperature to achieve this. Heat exchangers are the technical blocker in this process. They transfer heat from hot molten salt to “working fluid”. At the moment, heat exchangers are made from stainless steel and nickel alloy material. These materials can become soft under extreme high temperature and pressures of supercritical CO2 dioxide.

Zirconium-Carbide Ceramics

Kenneth Sandhage is believed to have been inspired by the synthetic material used by his coworkers. This material is used for solid fuel rocket nozzles. They can withstand extreme pressure and temperatures. Kenneth Sandhage, Asegun H. Henry of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is currently designing a comparable synthetic material for a heat exchanger. These two materials are combined to create complex materials that can have unexpected effects. Purdue University’s ceramic-metal Composite Plates can be modified to allow heat conversion.

Construction of Zirconium Carbide Composite Materials

Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Edgar Lara–Curzio research unit conducted mechanical and corrosion testing of the composite. The University of Wisconsin Madison’s Mark Anderson research group also conducted tests. The composite material was able to adapt to supercritical CO2 under extreme pressure and temperature conditions. This makes it more efficient than heat exchangers. Research by the Georgia Institute of Technology (and Purdue University) has shown that heat exchanging units made of new materials are cheaper than those made of nickel or stainless steel.

Kenneth Sandhage claimed that, with continuous technological development, technology will expand from large-scale, renewable solar energy to power grid fields. That means that carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity in electricity production will be significantly reduced.

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