Hybrid Power Plants

Hybrid technology used in vehicles has created a way for users to “go green” at a relatively affordable cost.  Now researchers at Tel Aviv University School of Mechanical Engineering have taken this idea to power plants.  The project is headed by Professor Avi Kribus and is conducted at the University’s new Renewable Energy Center.

Today, most power plants still run solely on fuel.  Up till now, the only real environmentally-friendly alternative is solar thermal power plants.  These plants use high temperatures and pressure created by sunlight to produce turbine movement.  The problem with these plants is the extremely high cost to produce the equipment and implement the technology required to collect solar energy.

Prof. Kribus and his researchers have created a project that combines conventional fuel with steam produced by solar power.  This will allow plants to replace 25 to 50% of their fuel use with green energy.  Typical solar plants require the sun to heat high-pressure steam to temperatures of 400 to 500 degrees centigrade.  The materials required to handle these high temperatures and pressures are too costly to be widely practical.

Prof. Kribus has developed an alternative technology called a steam-injection gas turbine.  “We combine a gas turbine, which works on hot air and not steam, and inject the solar-produced steam into the process,” he explains. “We still need to burn fuel to heat the air, but we add steam from low-temperature solar energy, approximately 200 degrees centigrade.”  The lower pressure and heat requirements of this new technology are much more cost-effective while still creating a highly efficient hybrid energy cycle.

The goal is to create hybrid plants that can offer electricity at a comparable cost to fuel based power plants.  Currently, electricity from solar thermal power plants costs twice as much as electricity from traditional power plants.  The researchers are beginning collaboration with a university in India to develop the technology in more detail as well as searching for corporate partnerships to implement the hybrid technology.

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