The solar thermal power plant business is all about
big: Square miles of mirrors in the desert that surround 600-foot-tall
towers to generate massive megawatts of electricity for multibillion-
dollar price tags. Big Solar’s ability to compete against fossil fuels,
though, could come down to grains of salt.
In a small lab in the San Francisco
Bay Area biotech hub of Emeryville, scientists at a startup called
Halotechnics are sifting through thousands of mixtures of molten salt.
They’re searching for the right combinations that will allow solar
thermal energy to be stored cheaply and efficiently so it can be
dispatched to generate electricity after the sun sets. In other words,
the 24/7 solar power plant.
Molten salt storage has been around since the 1990s, when United Technologies’
Rocketdyne division developed it for Solar Two, a prototype “power
tower” station built by the U.S. Department of Energy in the Mojave