Some University of Arkansas researchers want to give solar power a new meaning. They want to store the Sun’s heat in concrete, and then pass that heat on to generate electricity. Since the US hasn’t had many projects involving storing of thermal energy in concrete, it is a good time to start.
Currently, energy can be stored in a concrete medium at a maximum of 325 degrees Celsius, but the researchers’ plan is to work at 600 degrees.
High performance concrete will be created observing different mixes of concrete, and discover the mix that can store more thermal energy. They’ll also use computer models to see the effect of different concrete combinations.
Practically, solar panels are to be used to capture solar thermal energy and pass it on to concrete, that has steel tubing inside.
“Solar holds great promise as an alternative source of energy,” said Panneer Selvam, professor of civil engineering. “The government recognizes this and knows that we must move in this direction. The problem is that scientists and engineers have not yet developed technology that will allow producers to harness solar power efficiently. So, one area of emphasis to reduce costs is something called thermal energy storage, which is nothing more than developing effective and cost-efficient methods of transferring heat from collectors and holding it before sending it to generators. That is what we are trying to do.”
Storing energy in concrete is a long-term plan, sponsored with $770,000 by the DOE (Department of Energy), who wants to reduce the cost of storage from 13-17 cents/kWh to 5 cents/kWh by 2020.