A team of researchers in Abu Dhabi has developed an innovative new technology that uses sand to store solar energy. Known as Sandstock, the project aims to reduce costs associated with the conversion of solar power into usable electricity. Using locally-sourced sand to store sun’s energy, according to the scientists, is not only cheaper, but also ensures round-the-clock power production.
The project was carried out by researchers from the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the United Arab Emirates, a country that has an abundance of bright sunlight and dry, grainy sand. As pointed out by the team, sand particles are actually poor conductors of heat, and can therefore store sun’s radiant energy for long periods of time. This ensures uninterrupted power conversion, even at night.
As part of the Sandstock project, the scientists have used sand as an efficient thermal energy storage (or TES) material that feeds solar heat into concentrated solar power (CSP) systems. According to the researchers, this naturally-occurring substance is capable of storing energy equivalent to nearly 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit (around 1,000 degrees Celsius) of heat.
Laboratory testing so far has shown encouraging results. Speaking about the ongoing project, Nicolas Calvet, a professor of mechanical and materials engineering at Masdar as well as the head of the institute’s Thermal Energy Storage Research Group, said:
Two pilot models of the system have been tested in an effort to prove its efficiency and applicability on a large scale in big projects.
Currently-available TES systems rely on substances, such as molten salts and synthetic oils, for their various functions. In addition to being expensive, these materials are often harmful to the environment . Sand, on the other hand, is an eco-friendly resource that is both inexpensive and abundant. Using sand as the main element of energy storage, the team believes, could help reduce costs , thus bringing about a major change in the solar power industry.
So far, the researchers have performed two tests, using the results to further enhance the efficiency of the technology. At present, the team is working to build a pre-commercial prototype that would then be tested at the Masdar Institute Solar Platform (MISP). Scientists at the institute are also in the process of developing other solar power technologies, including powerful CSP towers that could be used to effectively focus incident sunlight onto ground receivers.
To learn more about the Sandstock project, head over to the official website of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.