GE creates 'sunrotor' system to store, generate clean energy

GE researchers have developed a new technology that uses CO2 to generate a substantial amount of clean energy, and it doubles as an energy storage solution for solar panels. CO2, of course, is one big cause of climate change, and the irony isn't lost on GE. By using the technology, solar storage and clean energy could be made more efficient while simultaneously reducing the amount of fossil fuels needed to power homes and dealing with harmful CO2 pollution wrecking the environment.

In a statement on Tuesday, GE detailed the work of Stephen Sanborn, a senior engineer with GE Global Research and the principal investigator for this project. The issue concerns energy demands that come at times when solar is not ideal, and presents a way to store surplus energy when the weather is more than ideal. During the long dark days of winter, for example, having a surplus of energy is necessary to meet demand. During the bright, long days of summer, solar arrays may generate more electricity than current technologies can adequately store.

The solution could be the contraption you see above, a so-called 'sunrotor' that functions as a CO2 turbine based on the company's own steam turbine design. Rather than using steam, though, the sunrotor uses CO2 that is heated from its dry ice stage into a supercritical fluid using molten salt. This particular prototype is able to generate 100megawatts of electricity.

The storage part comes from how the system deals with the CO2 — in this case, solar heat is stored in molten salt, and extra electricity is used to cool CO2 into dry ice. When more electricity is needed than the system is able to provide in that moment, the salt is then used to warm up the dry ice, powering the sunrotor and generating electricity to fill in the gap.

Adding the system to existing solar setups would be simple, according to GE; right now, researchers are focusing on the bringing the cost-per-megawatt down to $100.

General Electric has been increasingly working toward a more green future, and to that end it recently announced plans to focus solely on LED bulbs in the U.S., ditching CFLs and the problems they present. The time is right, GE had said, as the technology has improved while costs have come down substantially. Though an LED bulb is usually still more expensive than a CFL bulb, they last much longer and, as one example, illuminate at full brightness instantly rather than taking a few minutes to warm up.

SOURCE: General Electric