Solar gas technology is the product of formidable innovations and research in the field of emissions-free technologies. This fairly new source of energy presents governments and private enterprises with the ability to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously meeting an exploding global demand for energy. Despite such potential, solar gas technology continues to remain relatively obscure. This obscurity in turn grants this article an opportunity to shed some light on what has been referred to as “a game changer for the renewable energy industry”.
How does it work?
Solar Gas is a combustible fuel, akin to any other natural gas; however, the process to generate it differs slightly from conventional methods. In concise terms; the sun’s rays are concentrated in metal chambers to drive a reaction between the water and natural gas, which stores solar energy in the form of chemical bonds. The gas can then be used to produce high-efficiency electricity in a gas engine or turbine at a later stage.
All the chemical reactions take place inside an array of metal pipes. These pipes are heated up by solar energy to temperatures of above 800 degrees C. Within these pipes, natural gas is mixed with carbon dioxide or steam. This reaction process is endothermic and causes the Carbon Dioxide to convert into a new mix of gases, sucking up vast quantities of solar energy in the new gas molecules.
On top of reducing greenhouse emissions, Solar Gas also generates higher volumes of energy: estimated at approximately 25% more energy than in original natural gas. This ‘extra’ energy comes from the sun trapped inside the new gas molecules.
Solar Gas is a multipurpose fuel; burned to get heat or electricity; used to build transport fuels such as methanol or diesel through a process called Fischer-Tropsch; used to make hydrogen through a shift reactor; stored solar energy can be recovered in the form of heat.
Who is currently researching solar gas?
Different academic institutions and international organizations are currently working on Sun Gas research projects.
Australia’s national science agency, The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has been leading the way in terms of research. CSIRO are using solar energy to produce ‘Supercritical Steam’. This particular type of steam is water pressurized at incredible force and heated using solar radiation. Supercritical steam would drastically increase the efficiency of commercial thermal power plants and help lower the cost of solar electricity.
In partnership with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (AREA) and Abengoa Solar, the largest supplier of solar thermal electricity in the world, CSIRO have launched a $5.6 million research program working towards developing advanced solar storage to provide solar electricity at any time, day or night.
Similarly, in 2014, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), was put in charge of coordinating the HELMETH EU project (EUR 3.8 million) which aims to enable more efficient methane gas production from regenerative power by thermal electricity. The project is slated to take three years, having received EUR 2.5 million of its funding from the EU’s seventh framework program for the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology initiative.
The automobile industry is also penetrating this market. Major companies such as Volkswagen and BMW are fully invested in renewable energy research. Volkswagen, in particular, has partnered with Raiffeisen Warengenossenschaft, under the brand name SunGas, successfully installing the first Solar Gas filling station in Germany on the B248 road between Luchow and Dannenberg. The filling station is supplied with a 600kW plant. Following the processing and refining stage, the biofuel is pumped along an underground pipe to the filling station where it is stored and ready for vehicles to refuel.
Similarily the Times of India published an article in 2013, recognizing Solar energy’s potential, claiming that it could be the solution to energy security in India. Moreover, a major Sun Gas project is currently underway in Nigeria. Three partner organizations including The International Institute for Environment and Development, Niger Delta Wetlands Centre and the Living Earth Foundation, are all working towards the development of natural gas and sustainable community-based energy facilities.
The project was launched in 2009 with the final goal of installing and commissioning gas plants to utilize flare gas to provide electricity to the local community, with the establishment of community-based utilities. The main scope of the project has been to ensure access to modern energy services in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria in order to stimulate local economic development. Specifically the project hopes to generate new opportunities for small and medium enterprise developments in agriculture, small scale manufacturing, trade and local services.
Solar Gas potential in the rest of the world:
The environmental, social, financial and economic advantages are numerous.
Low-carbon energy provision facilities can be installed in poor/isolated communities. Affordable energy services would enhance educational and health prospects for local populations. The investment climate is also ripe. Gas utilization demonstration projects are readily available online and should demonstrate the feasibility of such projects and encourage both the private and public sector to increase investment.