Human settlements

Renewable energy

Solar thermal 03: Solar pond for industrial process heat

Renewable energy commercialisation in Australia

The solar pond system is an innovative, cost-effective method of capturing and storing solar energy for a range of applications.

A grant of $550,000 under the Renewable Energy Commercialisation Program underpins a demonstration project that should reduce regional Australia's reliance on fossil fuels while boosting economic prosperity.

A consortium of RMIT University, Geo-Eng Australia Pty Ltd and Pyramid Salt Pty Ltd has completed a project using a 3000 square metre solar pond located at the Pyramid Hill salt works in northern Victoria to capture and store solar energy using pond water which can reach up to 80C.

Solar pond

Pyramid Salt will use the pond's heat not only in its commercial salt production but also for aquaculture, specifically producing brine shrimps for stock feed. It is planned in a subsequent stage of the project to generate electricity using the heat stored in the solar pond, thus making this local industry more energy self-sufficient.

Pyramid Salt is confident that installing the solar pond will enable production of more competitively priced salt. This improved cost effectiveness will boost sales, turnover and profits over the next five years. At the local level this will be a significant boost in an area with high unemployment and a depressed economy.

Solar ponds have been installed overseas, with at least 60 systems having been constructed around the world, mostly for the provision of process heat to industry. In Australia there have been various experimental solar ponds. While there aren't yet any commercial applications of solar ponds in Australia and only a few globally, the technology is now poised for commercialisation. As a concept, solar ponds are becoming increasingly attractive as the cost of constructing them is decreasing compared with the rising costs of conventional energy. Additionally they offer a form of renewable energy that is increasingly attractive as countries seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The consortium believes the technology offers a range of benefits for regional Australia. Geo-Eng and Pyramid Salt are planning to commercialise solar ponds for a range of rural industrial applications such as drying fruit and grain and for production of dairy products, as part of salinity mitigation schemes where practical. In addition, by replacing some of the demand for process heat traditionally drawn from fossil energy sources, not only will greenhouse gas emissions be reduced but the reduction in fuel costs will offer flow-ons for local economic development and job creation.

Solar ponds can produce process heat (60-80C) for a wide range of applications at an average cost of about $10 per gigajoule or two-thirds the cost of liquid petroleum gas or fuel oil in rural areas. Natural gas is not available in most rural areas so solar ponds for low-temperature heating applications are likely to be very cost-effective. Projections indicate that successful commercialisation of the solar ponds in salt-impacted areas of rural Victoria, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by over 10 megatonnes per year and generate in the order of 2000GWh per year of green electricity. At the national level the savings would be even more significant.

At the same time, farmers adjacent to salinity mitigation schemes incorporating solar ponds will be able to bring land currently too high in its salt level back into productive use.

For more information please contact

Professor Aliakbar Akbarzadeh
Dept of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering
Faculty of Engineering
RMIT University PO Box 71, Bundoora, VIC 3083
Tel (03) 9925 6079
Fax (03) 9925 6108

Mr Gavin Privett
Project manager, Pyramid Salt Pty Ltd
Pyramid-Boort Road, Pyramid Hill VIC 3575
Tel (03) 5455 1299
Fax (03) 9455 1299

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