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New Zirconium Carbide Ceramic Materials Make Solar Power Generation Cheaper

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Update time : 2020-09-18 09:04:24

Zirconium carbide ceramic material has high electrical conductivity and can be used as a heat protection material in aerospace vehicles and propulsion systems.

Conductive Heat of Ceramic Metal Plate

Recently, American scientists have developed a new type of material and manufacturing process that uses solar energy as thermal energy to generate electricity more efficiently. In addition to the use of power generation and power storage on cloudy days and nights, solar power is a lower-cost energy solution, but solar power only accounts for 2% of US electricity sources. A research team at Purdue University in the United States has developed a new type of material and manufacturing process that makes the use of solar power more efficient and feasible.


This technological innovation is an important link in the direct competition between solar power generation and fuel power generation. At present,  fuel power generation accounts for more than 60% of the total power generation in the United States. Kenneth Sandhage, a professor in the Department of Materials Engineering at Purdue University, said:“Storing solar energy in the form of thermal energy is cheaper than storing energy in batteries. So the next step is to reduce the cost of solar power generation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Electricity Generation by Turbine Generator

The use of solar energy is not only to obtain thermal power generation through solar panels on farms or roofs, but also to use solar thermal energy to generate concentrated power. Concentrated solar power plants use mirrors or lenses to gather a large amount of light in a small area, thereby converting solar energy into electricity, and the heat generated is transferred to molten salt. The heat of the molten salt is then transferred to a "working fluid"-supercritical carbon dioxide, which in the process of expansion causes the turbine to spin and generate electricity.


In order to effectively reduce the cost of solar power generation, the turbine engine needs to generate more electricity with the same heat, which means that it runs at a higher temperature. The technical bottleneck of this process is the heat exchanger, which transfers the heat of the hot molten salt to the "working fluid". At present, the heat exchanger is made of stainless steel or nickel alloy materials. Under ideal high temperature conditions and high pressure of supercritical carbon dioxide, These materials will become soft.

Design Source of Zirconium Carbide Ceramics

It is understood that Kenneth Sandhage's design was inspired by the "synthetic material" made by his colleagues before. This material is used to make solid fuel rocket nozzles, which can withstand high temperature and pressure. Currently, Kenneth Sandhage is working with Asegun Henry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to design a similar synthetic material to make a harder heat exchanger.


Ceramic zirconium carbide and metallic tungsten, these two materials combined into complex materials can produce unexpected effects. The ceramic-metal composite plates made by Purdue University researchers can be used to customize channels to achieve heat conversion.

Development of Zirconium Carbide Composite Materials

The Edgar Lara-Curzio research team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory conducted mechanical tests on the composite, and the Mark Anderson research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted corrosion tests. These tests showed that this new composite material can be customized to adapt to supercritical carbon dioxide Under high temperature and high pressure conditions, it generates electricity more efficiently than current heat exchangers.


An analysis by researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University shows that compared with stainless steel or nickel alloy heat exchangers, heat exchangers made of new materials can be mass-produced at the same or lower cost.

Kenneth Sandhage said that with the continuous development of technology, the technology will extend from large-scale renewable solar energy to the power grid field, which means that the carbon dioxide emissions produced by humans in the production of electricity will be greatly reduced.


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