CSIRO’s Brayton Cycle Solar Power Tower

Australia’s  CSIRO has announced it is constructing the largest solar-power tower of its type in the world at the National Solar Energy Centre in Newcastle.

The solar farm will consist of around 450 mirrors that will focus the sun’s rays onto a 30m-high tower in order to produce super-heated compressed air to drive a Brayton Cycle turbine. The Brayton cycle is a thermodynamic cycle that describes the workings of the gas turbine engine, basis of the jet engine and others

While solar power towers aren’t new, most use solar thermal technology that require water to operate a steam turbine to produce electricity. The Brayton Cycle technology does not need water; so it is ideally suited to many parts of Australia that only receive minimal rainfall according to Director of CSIRO’s Energy Transformed Flagship, Dr Alex Wonhas.

The solar farm will cover an area of 4,000 square metres and once built will be capable of operating at temperatures above 900 degrees Celsius. The facility is expected to be operational by March 2011 and is being built adjacent to an existing solar tower field that creates SolarGas – using water and natural gas – at the National Solar Energy Centre site.

The project will be used to refine the technology in order to make it a cheaper, more efficient energy source suitable for many desert locations in Australia, and in other arid regions around the world.

CSIRO has received $5m in funding from the Australian Solar Institute (ASI) – an Australian Government initiative – to build the facility and carry out research over two years.