Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are testing a device that can harness solar heat to increase a natural-gas power plant’s efficiency 25 percent from the same amount of fuel.
The PNNL approach builds on what’s called solar thermal energy production. Instead of relying on photovoltaic cells to directly convert sunlight into energy, solar thermal plants use mirrored, parabolic troughs or dishes to concentrate sunlight and tap the resulting heat to drive steam turbines. The difference: the PNNL system takes advantage of the solar heat to drive a chemical reaction instead of using it to create steam.
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