Driving the power revolution
Efficient large-scale power generation from geothermal and other low-grade heat sources has become a reality with the release of a revolutionary new technology.
Called GRANEX®, the technology uses low grade heat and delivers higher thermal efficiencies than conventional power plants. It increases the net amount of electricity that can be generated from low-grade heat sources such as geothermal and industrial waste heat.
Chemical engineers, Professor Behdad Moghtaderi and Dr Elham Doroodchi, with a team of researchers, joined Sydney-based geothermal company Granite Power Limited to develop the GRANEX® technology platform. The work included theoretical studies, a 1kW proof-of-concept power plant and a 100 kilowatt prototype plant.
After an intensive period of successful testing, which confirmed the improved performance of GRANEX® (relative to traditional organic rankine cycle technology), the research team at the University's Priority Research Centre for Energy are now focused on step-out R&D, aimed at even further improvements in performance at relatively low temperatures and assisting with applications design work for commercial units.
"The 100 kilowatt model was a great success and demonstrated a 40 per cent improvement in terms of thermal energy efficiency and power generation, and for geothermal applications the net improvement is about 50 per cent," Professor Moghtaderi said.
"It demonstrated for the first time an effective and economically viable technology platform for power generation from low-grade heat sources and has allowed us to scale up the project to the equally successful 100 kilowatt pilot plant.
"Our work from here is to extend the parameters of the GRANEX® concept to design and build power plants of any size and which are commercially attractive even for very low temperature waste heat, and put to use valuable heat sources that would otherwise be wasted."
Dr Doroodchi said, if harnessed, geothermal and waste heat energy could be used to meet the demand of the Australian electricity market for years to come.
"Geothermal energy has clear environmental advantages over other renewable energy sources as it has no CO2 emissions and can provide base-load electricity," Dr Doroodchi said.
Demand for GRANEX® is expected to be international and could generate billions of dollars according to studies by Granite Power.
Granite Power Managing Director, Stephen de Belle, said the performance of GRANEX® would transform the power generation sector, and was a huge credit to Professor Moghtaderi, Dr Doroodchi, their team and the University of Newcastle.
"The existing recovered industrial waste heat market and the growing demand for low-cost, zero carbon, based-load geothermal power means there is a large and increasing market in Australia and internationally for GRANEX®," Mr de Belle said.
"It will have significant and very positive implications for employment and exports."
Professor Moghtaderi, Dr Doroodchi and the team at the Priority Research Centre for Energy are part of the University’s Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER). Collaborating with national and international partners, NIER provides practical benefits to industry, the community and the economy by advancing research in clean energy production, energy efficiency and the minimisation of carbon emissions.
Making the connection
When Granite Power was looking for researchers to help solve a problem that it was having regarding developing commercially attractive geothermal energy technology, Newcastle Innovation played matchmaker.
The University’s commercial arm was established 41 years ago to help businesses capitalise on new research. The not-for-profit company is now working with more than 300 businesses on University research projects totalling $10 million.
The development of GRANEX® is an example of a happy marriage between the University and industry.
While Professor Moghtaderi, Dr Doroodchi and the team were able to use their expertise to develop the heat exchanger, Newcastle Innovation provided patenting and intellectual property advice.
GRANEX® ended up attracting more than $2 million in funding, a coup when it comes to proof-of-concept projects.
“Industry had a problem, we helped solve it and in the process the research generated intellectual property,” Senior Business Liaison Manager David Fleming said.
Granite Power commercialised and secured the licence of the patentable technology and the research has generated international interest.
“This project is very exciting and highlights how effectively researchers and industry can work together,” Mr Fleming said. “It’s important to forge these links and engage the wider community in the groundbreaking work carried out at the University.”