Concentrated solar gets salty

Cleantech: Windsor Locks, Conn.-based Hamilton Sundstrand is bringing salt to the desert. The company announced plans to work with Santa Monica, Calif., private equity firm US Renewables Group to commercialize a concentrated solar power system that uses molten salt for energy storage.

The new venture, called called SolarReserve, will operate the utility-scale solar thermal projects using technology and equipment developed and manufactured by Hamilton Sundstrand’s Rocketdyne unit. “The molten salt holds its heat very efficiently and for long periods of time,” Dan Coulom, spokesman at Hamilton Sundstrand, told Cleantech.com.

Coulum said the company, a subsidiary of United Technologies (NYSE: UTX), plans to build as many as 10 plants over the next 10 to 15 years, pulling in revenues of $1 billion over that time period. With concentrated solar, a large number of motor-controlled mirrors track the sun and reflect the solar energy onto a tower receiver, which in turn heats a liquid that can be used to make steam. A steam turbine can then produce electricity.

“The molten salt, which is in a storage tank at the bottom of the tower, is run up through the receiver and heated to about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Coulom. The company said using molten salt, a mixture of sodium and potassium nitrate, instead of water or oil, allows the heat to be stored for use on cloudy days or at night.

Hamilton Sundstrand, which is a major subcontractor on the International Space Station’s photovoltaic solar system, got involved in the more down-to-earth concentrated solar when its parent company grabbed Rocketdyne in 2005 from Boeing (NYSE: BA). Rocketdyne had been involved for more than 20 years in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Two project in Barstow, Calif., which uses Rocketdyne’s power tower and molten salt technology….

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