Winner: Associate Professor Frank Bruno, Dr Martin Belusko and Dr Steven Tay, University of South Australia

Melting salt to store solar power

Fast-melting salts could solve solar power’s big challenge: the mismatch between peak sunlight hours and peak, evening electricity use.

A University of South Australia team has developed a new phase-change system that provides energy storage at a tenth of the cost of batteries. By melting and solidifying an inexpensive liquid salt solution, energy can be stored and released quickly and cheaply.

As well as extending the potential reach of renewable energy, the system also allows Australian produce companies to reduce multibillion-dollar refrigeration electricity costs by ‘charging’ the system (freezing the solution) during inexpensive off-peak hours and ‘discharging’ (remelting) during expensive peak hours.

For their development of the low-cost energy storage system, Associate Professor Frank Bruno, Dr Martin Belusko and Dr Steven Tay of the University of South Australia have been awarded the ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology.

The phase-change system:

  • Resolves the mismatch between generation hours and electricity use, so that solar and wind power can form an even larger slice of the national generation grid.
  • Reduces refrigeration electricity costs by up to 50 per cent by charging during non-peak hours to discharge during peak-cost hours (Australia’s refrigeration electricity costs are $14 billion per year).
  • Smooths out electricity use, reducing the need for expensive, peak-driven infrastructure, and for extra fossil-fuel generation of power during daylight hours.

“The potential this technology offers for renewable energy to form a much larger slice of Australia’s electricity generation through low-cost energy storage is very exciting,” Kim McKay AO, Executive Director and CEO of the Australian Museum said.

Established in 1827, the Australian Museum is the nation’s first museum and one of its foremost scientific research, educational and cultural institutions. The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence in Research and Innovation, Leadership, Science Communication and Journalism, and School Science.

The other finalists were:

  • Associate Professor Kondo-François Aguey-Zinsou (University of New South Wales) for development of the Hy-Cycle low-temperature, low-pressure hydrogen storage that can power a motorised bicycle over 120km on a single, small canister.
  • Professor Martin Green and Dr Mark Keevers (University of New South Wales) for splitting a single light beam to generate power from two different types of solar cell.

Watch the video.