Abdulrahman Al Ansari discusses the work of a team of researchers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who have just discovered how to store thermal energy in sand.
Storing solar energy
There are many ways to store solar energy. The majority of solar energy technologies utilise photovoltaics to achieve this aim. They harness the power of specially layered semiconducting materials to convert sunlight directly into electric current.
Another way to turn sunlight into energy is through concentrated solar power (CSP) technologies. These utilise a range of mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto one point, where the solar energy is then stored and turned into electricity. CSP storage structures are usually tall towers – like grain silos, but slimmer in appearance.
Online news portal Upi reported that a team of researchers at the UAE’s Masdar Institute of Science and Technology has discovered that sand could serve as the ideal material for CSP technologies. Through the ‘Sandstock project,’ they learned that carbonite and quartz particles found in sand can absorb and store thermal energy.
Their tests indicated that sand sourced from the Emirati deserts can withstand temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees Celsius. Commenting on the research, Nicolas Calvet, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering at the Institute, said: “The higher you can push your temperature, the more efficient your plant will be in generating electricity,” meaning it can serve as the ideal solar energy storage material.
Continuing, Calvet noted: “The availability of this material in desert environments such as the UAE allows for significant cost reductions in novel CSP plants, which may use it both as TES [thermal energy storage] material and solar absorber.” Going on, he stated that “the success of the Sandstock project reflects that usability and practical benefits of the UAE desert sand.” The team are currently developing a scalable sand-based prototype.
Powering the Emirates
Analysis of the UAE’s energy market published by the UK government in December 2014 explains: “The UAE is the world’s eighth largest oil producer, but it exports almost all it produces. It meets most of its domestic energy demand with gas, which is cheaper than oil. But its energy demand is growing. The UAE is trying to meet this challenge by increasing domestic gas production, diversifying sources and constraining demand.” The UAE is looking at ways to capitalise on other power sources such as nuclear and renewables to diversify its energy market.
If the Sandstock project proves successful, it could transform the UAE’s energy market. Sand is by far the Emirates’ most abundant resource; Sandstock would allow the country to utilise it to store a significant amount of solar energy. This would provide the Emirates with a sustainable way to harness the energy it needs to meet increasing demand, power industry and fuel economic growth.
About Abdulrahman Al Ansari
Abdulrahman Al Ansari has more than 17 years of experience in the global financial services industry. He serves as the chairman of a number of reputable financial firms including AMA Investment Holding and Bid Capital Management Consultancy.
Abdulrahman’s professional portfolio encompasses a diverse range of sectors from commodities and natural resources to education, healthcare, oil & gas and investment banking. He has earned a reputation as an innovator, who consistently develops new ideas and solutions to address the complex and demanding challenges which confront his clients every day. Over the years, Abdulrahman has cultivated a special interest in the continued economic and community development of the UAE.