Sandia National Laboratories


    Advantages of Using Molten Salt

    A variety of fluids was tested to transport the sun's heat, including water, air, oil, and sodium, before molten salt was selected as best. Molten salt is used in solar power tower systems because it is liquid at atmosphere pressure, it provides an efficient, low-cost medium in which to store thermal energy, its operating temperatures are compatible with todays high-pressure and high-temperature steam turbines, and it is non-flammable and nontoxic. In addition, molten salt is used in the chemical and metals industries as a heat-transport fluid, so experience with molten-salt systems exists for non-solar applications. Schematic of electricity

generation using molten-salt technology

    The molten salt is a mixture of 60 percent sodium nitrate and 40 percent potassium-nitrate, commonly called saltpeter. The salt melts at 430 F and is kept liquid at 550 F in an insulated cold storage tank. The salt is them pumped to the top of the tower, where concentrated sunlight heats it in a receiver to 1050 F. The receiver is a series of thin-walled stainless steel tubes. The heated salt then flow back down to a second insulated hot storage tank. The size of this tank depends on the requirements of the utility; tanks can be designed with enough capacity to power a turbine from two to twelve hours. When electricity is needed from the plant, the hot salt is pumped to a conventional steam-generating system to produce superheated steam for a turbine/generator.

    The uniqueness of this solar system is in de-coupling the collection of solar energy from producing power, electricity can be generated in periods of inclement weather or even at night using the stored thermal energy in the hot salt tank. The tanks are well insulated and can store energy for up to a week. As an example of their size, tanks that provide enough thermal storage to power a 100-megawatt turbine for four hours would be about 30 feet tall and 80 feet in diameter. Studies show that the two-tank storage system could have an annual efficiency of about 99 percent.

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[Mail to:] Lisa Sena-Henderson

Last Modified: 01/10/06

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Tom Mancini
Sandia National Laboratories, Mail Stop 1127
Albuquerque, NM 87185
Phone: 505-844-8643
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