Energy efficiency has been a major talking point in recent years amid climate change, extreme weather events, and a global push for clean and renewable energy sources. Most current power plants, whether they rely on coal, nuclear energy or natural gas, convert heat into electricity via a process called the steam-based Rankine cycle.
Despite being the go-to process for power generation in most if not all power plants, this process is extremely inefficient because approximately two-thirds of the energy is lost in converting steam back into water. With the world currently experiencing a major energy crisis, inefficiencies in power production could make the energy crunch even more difficult and make it more challenging for countries to effectively transition to renewable energy such as solar and wind.
Keen on fixing this problem, researchers from the Sandia National Lab under the Department of Energy came up with a new power conversion system that could significantly heighten the efficiency of existing power plants, new advanced reactors, and concentrated solar and gas-fired power plants.
Rather than the steam-based Rankine cycle, the researchers developed a Brayton cycle that is closed loop and utilizes supercritical carbon dioxide instead of water as a working fluid. Since supercritical CO2 can reach temperatures as high as 700°C, which is considerably hotter than steam and remains within the system, Brayton cycles can be much more efficient at converting heat generated by power plants into electricity compared to power plants that leverage Rankine cycles, which are steam based.
In this new power conversion system, CO2 gas is pressurized, expanded and heated via a turbine to generate electric energy. The carbon dioxide is then run through a recuperator for cooling before being sent back to the compressor to begin the cycle.
Researchers first tested the new innovation by heating supercritical CO2 to 316°C before directing electricity to the electrical grid of the Air Force Base at Sandia-Kirtland. The test was a success, producing up to 10 kW of electricity and continuously providing electric power for 50 minutes.
The researchers say that they have been keen on connecting their system to the grid for a while and the fact that power operators agreed to the test is a significant step in the right direction.
The research team behind the Brayton cycle technology will now focus on modifying it to run at even higher temperatures with the goal of providing a demonstration of its 1 megawatt supercritical carbon dioxide Brayton cycle system by autumn 2022. The scientists are counting on grid operators to allow them to test the technology occasionally by supplying power to the grid.
This technology could usher in a whole new paradigm in the way uranium extracted by mining companies such as Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU) (TSX: EFR) is put to use with minimal waste generated while yielding maximum energy.
NOTE TO INVESTORS: The latest news and updates relating to Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU) (TSX: EFR) are available in the company’s newsroom at http://ibn.fm/UUUU
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