What is Solar for Industrial Processes?
Solar energy can be used to generate heat for a wide variety of industrial applications, including water desalination, enhanced oil recovery, food processing, chemical production, and mineral processing, among many others. This can be done either through concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technologies or by using resistive heaters or heat pumps powered by photovoltaic panels. When concentrating solar-thermal energy is used for industrial processes, mirrors are used to concentrate sunlight onto a receiver, which can readily reach very high temperatures, compared to electric heaters.
Because CSP is capable of reaching a wide range of temperatures, it is well suited for many industrial applications, from relatively low-temperature food-production processes to chemical processes that require very high temperatures. Learn the basics of CSP and industrial processes.
Why is Solar for Industrial Processes Important?
According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2019, the industrial sector accounted for 35% of total U.S. end-use energy consumption and 32% of total U.S. energy consumption. Advancing solar technologies for industrial processes helps to meet the goals of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office to create a carbon-free energy sector by 2050. Learn more about SETO’s CSP goals.
SETO Research in Solar for Industrial Processes
Many projects in this topic address solar thermal desalination, which has the potential of treating highly concentrated brines from seawater, underground aquifers, and industrial wastewaters that are otherwise difficult to purify, for use in municipal, agricultural, and industrial water supplies. Additionally, SETO research is helping to develop ultra-low-cost solar collectors and thermal energy storage technologies that are well-suited for other low-temperature industrial processes. For industrial processes that require high temperatures, SETO is funding projects developing high-temperature thermal systems capable exceeding the temperature limitations of existing CSP systems. Several of SETO’s funding programs have projects that focus on solar for industrial processes:
- Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power Research, Development, and Demonstration funding program – developing and deploying solar-thermal technologies for industrial decarbonization
- American-Made Challenges: Solar Desalination Prize – a competition designed to accelerate the development of low-cost desalination systems that use solar-thermal power to produce clean water from salt water.
- Solar Desalination funding program – exploring novel technologies that use solar-thermal energy to assist in creating freshwater from otherwise unusable waters.
- Solar Energy Technologies Office FY 2019 funding program – developing thermal storage technologies capable of producing steam for industrial processes.
- Solar Energy Technologies Office FY 2019-2021 Lab Call funding program – exploring solar hybrid approaches to produce electricity and/or heat for industrial manufacturing processes.
- Solar Energy Technologies Office FY 2018 funding program – advancing components found in CSP sub-systems, including thermal transport systems.
- Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS) Program FY 2023 – innovating solar-thermal industrial process heat innovations and solar-thermal fuel systems.
To view specific projects that support solar for industrial processes, search the Solar Energy Research Database.
- Environmental Protection Agency: Renewable Industrial Process Heat
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Solar for Industrial Process Heat Analysis