Researchers Find a New Energy Role for Desert Sand

Desert sand from the United Arab Emirates could be used in concentrating solar power (CSP) facilities to store thermal energy up to 1,000C. And replacing the typical heat storage materials used in thermal energy storage systems—such as synthetic oil and molten salts—with inexpensive sand can increase plant efficiency due to the increased working temperature of the storage material, thereby reducing costs.

That’s what researchers from the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology concluded in January as part of a quest to develop a sustainable and low-cost gravity-fed solar receiver and storage system (Figure 7).


7. Building on sand. Researchers have shown that desert sand in the United Arab Emirates could be a possible thermal energy storage material, saying its thermal stability, specific heat capacity, and tendency to agglomerate have been studied at high temperatures. Courtesy: Masdar Institute of Science and Technology

The research project dubbed “Sandstock” used sand particles—rich in quartz and carbonate materials—as the heat collector, heat transfer, and thermal energy storage media, and deemed it both a usable thermal storage material as well as a direct solar absorber under concentrated solar flux.

Researchers also tested a laboratory-scale prototype with a 1-MW solar furnace in Odeillo, France. The next step of the project is to test an improved prototype at a pre-commercial scale at the Masdar Institute Solar Platform using the beam-down concentrator.

Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor.