The University of Queensland has developed a new cooling tower technology which could transform power generation and reduce consumption in drought-affected areas.
The hybrid cooling tower technology allows for detailed study and development of new methods which reduce water consumption in thermal power generation. The lead researcher, Dr Kamel Hooman, said that the technology had the potential to make solar thermal power generation viable in areas suffering drought.
“We are aiming to reduce water consumption in future Queensland power generation plants by over 70,000 megalitres per year by 2020, equivalent to about 28,000 Olympic sized swimming pools. The implications of that are huge – offering up a reliable electricity supply without posing a significant environmental cost on rural communities,” said Dr Hooman.
Dr Hooman said that the technology uses a combination of air cooling and water, depending on the conditions. It also operates in dry mode, consuming no water for the majority of the year.
Hybrid cooling is a method of pre-cooling ambient air with small amounts of water when ambient temperatures are high. They can be selectively operated in dry and wet modes mode based on water availability and ambient temperatures, thus maintaining a steady power output.
A major benefit of hybrid cooling is that it can utilize brackish or briny water without pre-treatment. Preliminary tests suggest that brackish water used for hybrid cooling may improve heat transfers in comparison to clean water.
“For very hot days, commonly less than two weeks a year in Queensland, thermal power generation efficiency can be maintained without having to evaporate copious amounts of water,” said Hooman.
Queensland Minister for Science and Innovation, Leeanne Enoch, visited the facility and said that the technology could transform power generation in Australia and overseas by reducing water consumption and operational costs.
“Electricity generation requires large quantities of water and, in response to this challenge, research organizations worldwide are seeking to develop efficient cooling technologies that reduce water consumption. The University of Queensland has taken a giant leap forward in this field with the development of this hybrid cooling tower test facility,” said Enoch.
Image courtesy of University of Queensland