Positive Impact

World record solar-to-chemical energy conversion efficiency achieved. 


Richland, Washington


Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

EERE Investment


Clean Energy Sector

Renewable Electricity Generation

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is developing a new method for combining solar energy with modified natural gas power plants. This concentrating solar power (CSP) system harnesses sunlight to produce syngas, which is a fuel capable of driving a standard heat engine to produce electricity. In addition to offsetting the need for fossil fuels in traditional power plants, PNNL’s approach offers an affordable pathway to solar-generated electricity that is available round-the-clock.

The PNNL research team achieved a world-record 63% (+/-4%) solar-to-chemical energy conversion efficiency during a 2011 demonstration test supported by a 2009 DOE CSP American Recovery and Reinvestment Act award. Through a 2012 SunShot CSP Research and Development award, the team is pushing the efficiency of the system higher as it moves from proof-of-concept to validated prototype. This project could impact the market in as few as three years as the core technology, micro- and meso-channel reactors and heat exchangers, has already received several years of development at PNNL in projects for the US Department of Energy, the US Department of Defense, and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Discussions with potential commercial partners are already underway.

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) focuses on achieving the goals of the SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) success stories highlight the positive impact of its work with businesses, industry partners, universities, research labs, and other entities.