The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office Lab Call FY2022-24 funding program funds projects that support concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) system and subsystem innovations to improve reliability or develop applications for solar-thermal energy. Additionally, this funding program creates a consortium for the research and development of heliostats.

As part of this lab call, the national labs will also conduct research in systems integration, photovoltaics, and soft costs.

Approach

CSP projects are separated into two topics, the first of which is Innovations in Concentrating Solar-Thermal Technologies. These projects will focus on technology innovations for solar receivers, energy storage, power blocks, and operations and maintenance, as well as the use of CSP for industrial process heat. The second topic is the National Laboratory Consortium for Heliostat Research, Development, and Validation, which will establish a consortium focused on advancing continuous improvements in heliostat development, with an emphasis on heliostat components and system development.

Objectives

These projects will help to achieve cost reductions in order to reach SETO’s levelized cost of energy (LCOE) goals for CSP, making the technology more affordable and increasing its applications to help reach SETO’s goal of supporting an equitable transition to a decarbonized electricity system by 2035 and decarbonized energy sector by 2050.

Projects

Topic: Innovations in Concentrating Solar-Thermal Technologies

Project Name: Solid-Phase Additive Manufacturing of Oxide Dispersion Strengthened-Iron-Chromium-Aluminum Alloy Components for High-Temperature Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Power Cycle Applications
Lab: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 
Location: Richland, WA 
Principal Investigator: 
Saumyadeep Jana
Project Summary: This project team is developing a sintering-based, solid-phase, additive manufacturing method to make heat exchanger components—including recuperators, heaters, and microturbines—for supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) Brayton power cycles in Generation 3 concentrating solar-thermal power plants. The team will use strong iron-chromium-aluminum (FeCrAl) alloy powders to make the components, which cost about 8 times less than nickel-based alloys. This project could reduce the cost of compact heat-exchanger components by more than 40%.

Project Name: Pathways to Achieving Pipe Parity for Solar Thermal Desalination of High Salinity Brines
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Location: Golden, CO 
Principal Investigator: Parthiv Kurup
Project Summary:
Currently, no consistent framework exists for evaluating solar thermal and desalination technologies suited for high-salinity brines. This project is building onto the existing Water-TAP3 tool in order to develop it into an industry standard, a flexible, open-source platform for evaluating solar industrial process heat desalination technologies for high-salinity brines that reverse osmosis cannot effectively treat.

Project Name: Extreme Intensity Concentrating Solar Heat Flux Sensor Development & Calibration
Lab: Sandia National Laboratories
Location: Albuquerque, NM 
Principal Investigator: Henk
Laubscher
Project Summary: This project is developing a high-intensity flux sensor for CSP that is cost effective and can be purchased with relatively short lead times. The sensor will also have shorter response times and longer exposure times when compared to state-of-the-art commercial sensors. A calibration facility will also be developed to regulate the flux sensors. Without accurate flux measurements, especially at high intensities, proper CSP-related research is not possible.

Project Name: Ultra-High-Temperature Ceramic Triply Periodic Minimal Surface (UHTC-TPMS) Heat Exchangers for Concentrated Solar Power Applications with Thermal Energy Storage in Molten Chlorides
Lab: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 
Location: Livermore, CA
Principal Investigator: James Kelly
Project Summary:
This project is developing an ultra-high-temperature ceramic (UHTC) heat exchanger based on triply periodic minimal surface (TPMS) geometries. TPMS geometries are symmetric crystallographic structures that are observed in nature, architectural design, and art. Some UHTC materials have excellent molten chloride corrosion resistance at temperatures up to 800 ºC and can potentially double heat exchanger power density compared to nickel superalloys. UHTC heat exchangers could also double as a resistive heating element to convert excess electricity back into thermal energy to further improve efficiency. TPMS geometries require additive manufacturing methods and can provide 10 to 100 times higher heat transfer capability compared to tube or plate heat exchangers.

Project Name: Development and Demonstration of Ceramics Based Moving Bed Particle-to-Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Heat Exchanger for Operation at Temperatures Higher than 750°C
Lab: Argonne National Laboratory 
Location: Lemont, IL 
Principal Investigator: Dileep Singh
Project Summary:
Silicon carbide (SiC) and its composites are attractive materials for CSP thermal applications because they have excellent stability at temperatures up to 1400ºC. They are also suitable for the use in packed-bed, particle-based heat exchangers. This project aims to leverage SiC materials and additive manufacturing in order to reduce the overall manufacturing costs and meet SETO cost targets for CSP. The prototypes under development will be validated at temperatures higher than 750ºC using particles and supercritical carbon dioxide as the working fluids at Sandia National Laboratories’ test facility.

Project Name: Compact Counterflow Fluidized-Bed Particle Heat Exchanger
Lab: Sandia National Laboratories
Location: Albuquerque, NM 
Principal Investigator: Clifford Ho
Project Summary:
This project is designing and testing an alternative compact counterflow fluidized-bed particle heat exchanger in order to reduce the levelized cost of energy and levelized cost of storage for electrical grid and process-heat applications. In a counterflow heat exchanger, the direction of flow of the working fluids are opposite to each other. This enables lower observed stresses and a more uniform rate of heat transfer when compared to parallel flow heat exchangers. Moving-packed bed heat exchangers have historically been expensive to manufacture and the desired performance  requires very small plate or tube spacing, which may cause flowability issues at high temperatures. The project team will work with Babcock & Wilcox and TU Wien to develop and design the new technology.

Project Name: Design Methods, Tools, and Data for Ceramic Solar Receivers
Lab: Argonne National Laboratory 
Location: Lemont, IL 
Principal Investigator: Mark Messner
Project Summary:
While ceramic materials are extremely promising in achieving SETO’s 2030 LCOE target for CSP systems, there are currently no design methods suitable for designing high-temperature ceramic receivers. This project is developing design methods for ceramic receivers, implementing these methods in a publicly available, open-source receiver life estimation tool, generating the required design data for a promising ceramic system, and completing structural life and economic comparisons between metallic and ceramic receiver designs.

Project Name: Failure Analysis for Molten Salt Thermal Energy Storage Tanks for In-Service CSP Plants
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory 
Location: Golden, CO 
Principal Investigator: Julian Osorio
Project Summary:
This project addresses mechanical failure mechanisms in molten salt thermal energy storage (TES) tanks for in-service CSP plants. The team will conduct simulations on a commercial hot tank design to evaluate low-cycle thermal fatigue, stress distribution, and lifetime as a function of plant operation conditions. Based on the simulation results, the team will identify regions in the tank system susceptible to failure and will perform data analysis to develop failure probability criteria and/or correlation charts. This will allow tank manufacturers to enhance their designs and CSP plant operators to determine safe plant operation conditions, avoiding excessive stresses that may lead to failure. This work will lead to recommendations in design, manufacturing, materials, and plant operation conditions for existing TES tanks that allow for effective detection and monitoring of potential failures.

Project Name: Solar Hydrogen from Water Splitting using Liquid Metal Oxidation/Reduction Cycles Promoted by Electrochemistry
Lab: Sandia National Laboratories 
Location: Albuquerque, NM  
Principal Investigator: Anthony McDaniel
Project Summary:
This project is developing a solar-powered hydrogen production process based on a stoichiometric, two-step, metal oxide water splitting cycle that combines thermochemical hydrogen production with electrochemical metal oxide reduction. Hybridizing the two-step cycle avoids costly separation processes and ultra-high cycle temperatures, enabling a practical and efficient route to cost-effective solar fuels. This will be accomplished by using molten salt electrolysis to manipulate cycle thermodynamics. Knowledge gained from this project will inform system studies that yield cost projections for large-scale plant construction and operation, from which a credible path towards commercialization can be derived.

Project Name: Pumped Thermal Energy Storage Using Low-Cost Particles and a Fluidized Bed Heat Exchanger for Maximum Power Efficiency (PUMP)
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory 
Location: Golden, CO
Principal Investigator: Zhiwen Ma
Project Summary:
This project combines particle thermal energy storage (TES) with pumped thermal energy storage (PTES) technology to improve power cycle efficiency by 5–10% and reduce costs by more than 50% compared to molten-salt PTES. The team will integrate particle TES and PTES in a stand-alone configuration and a configuration hybridized with CSP, develop a direct-contact pressurized fluidized bed heat exchanger for charging and discharging, investigate incorporation of PTES turbomachinery and cycle optimization, develop system and component modeling tools, and conduct technoeconomic analysis.

Project Name: Current-Activated Reactive Ultrafast Joining (CARUJ) of High Temperature Materials
Lab: Argonne National Laboratory 
Location: Lemont, IL 
Principal Investigator: Dileep Singh
Project Summary:
The high-temperature systems and components for the next generation CSP require new materials such as cermets, ceramics, refractory alloys, and composites that must be integrated with similar material types and/or with metal alloys. The joining of similar and dissimilar materials is extremely challenging. This project is developing  current-activated reactive ultrafast joining (CARUJ) technology, which uses thin layers of precursor materials between the two parts and pass electric current through it. The team will perform various characterizations to evaluate the efficacy of the joints. Successful development and testing of CARUJ will benefit the deployment of next-generation thermal systems.

Project Name: Evaluating Microchannel Heat Exchanger Lifetime for Concentrating Solar Power Applications
Lab: Sandia National Laboratories
Location: Albuquerque, NM 
Principal Investigator: Kevin Albrecht
Project Summary:
This project investigates microchannel heat exchanger technology for next-generation concentrating solar power (CSP) concepts. The economics of these plants depends on heat exchangers with 30-year lifetimes and operational characteristics like fast ramping and the ability to withstand thermal shock. However, the lifetime and operational limits of microchannel heat exchangers, particularly those constructed from high-nickel alloys, are not well known. The project team will evaluate these limits for the manufacturing and prototype design for next-generation CSP heat exchanger technology by collecting experimental data and modeling studies.

Project Name: Wind-Loading on CSP Collectors, High-Fidelity Computational Fluid Dynamics Modeling, Experimental Field Measurement Campaigns, and Validation
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory 
Location: Golden, CO 
Principal Investigator: Shreyas Ananthan
Project Summary: The project aims to significantly improve the understanding of the fundamental physics drivers behind wind-loading experienced by concentrating solar power (CSP) collector and support structures. The project team will characterize the prevailing wind conditions and resulting operational loads at operating CSP plants and develop and validate a computationally-efficient, high-fidelity modeling tool capable of predicting wind-loading in CSP installations.

Project Name: Metal-to-Ceramic Joining Methods to Support Development of Advanced Ceramic-Based CSP Components
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Location: Golden, CO 
Principal Investigator: 
Youyang Zhao
Project Summary: This project is designing, developing, and testing a macroscopic ceramic-metal structural composite material with an axially-graded chemical composition, which means its composition varies along its axial direction This material will be used to achieve a ceramic-to-metal joint between the metal loop material and a candidate ceramic component material used by the Gen3 CSP technology pathway. Due to the axial gradation of the chemical composition, the joint interface between the ceramic and metal will have similar properties, enabling better reliability and performance under thermal stress.

Topic: National Laboratory Consortium for Heliostat Research, Development, and Validation 

Project Name: NREL-Led Consortium for Heliostat Research, Development, and Validation
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Location: Golden, CO 
Principal Investigator:
Guangdong Zhu
Project Summary: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories and the Australian Solar Thermal Research Institute, is developing and managing a consortium to support research, development, validation, commercialization, and deployment of low-cost and high-performance heliostats with optimized operation and maintenance for concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) applications. This heliostat consortium, known as HelioCon, will work closely with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), subject-matter experts, and a board of advisors composed of CSP developers, component suppliers, utilities, and international experts, to achieve DOE objectives for U.S.-manufactured heliostat cost, performance, and reliability.

National Laboratory Core Capability Projects in CSP

Project Name: CSP Optical Facilities
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory       
Location: Golden, CO    
Principal Investigator: Judy Netter
Project Summary: This project will focus on the repair and maintenance of concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) optical research facilities and equipment at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). These resources will support ongoing and projected research needs of CSP researchers and enable NREL to repair and update its existing CSP research equipment that is essential to the optical characterization of CSP components. This funding will ensure the continual operation of this equipment and that CSP researchers will have the necessary tools to achieve the cost goals of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office.

Project Name: CSP Systems Analysis
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory       
Location: Golden, CO    
Principal Investigator: Chad Augustine
Project Summary: This project will provide vetted tools that estimate concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) system performance, including emerging systems that may not yet be well defined. The work also includes upgrading the National Renewable Energy Laboratory System Advisor Model (SAM) related to CSP, as well as developing new modules within SAM to expand the types of CSP systems that can be simulated. Tracking CSP costs and performance using a consistent method is required to achieve the cost targets of the Solar Energy Technologies Office and provide strategic guidance to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Project Name: DOE’s National Solar-Thermal Test Facility Operations and Maintenance 
Lab: Sandia National Laboratories            
Location: Albuquerque, NM      
Principal Investigator: Francisco Alvarez
Project Summary: The National Solar-Thermal Test Facility operated by Sandia National Laboratories is the only large-scale CSP research and test facility in the United States. It provides established test platforms and researchers and technologists experienced in the CSP field on staff for assistance. This project will support the operations and maintenance needed to provide a safe, fully operational facility with testing capabilities that support DOE CSP awardees as they work to achieve the CSP cost goals of the Solar Energy Technologies Office.


Learn more about other projects in the FY2022-24 Lab Call.