The Department of Energy (DOE) on Thursday conditionally offered a $737 million loan guarantee to support SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, a 110-MW molten salt concentrating solar power (CSP) tower generating facility. The project would be the first of its kind in the U.S. and the tallest molten salt tower in the world, the federal agency said.

Located 14 miles northwest of Tonopah, Nev., on 2,250 acres leased from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Crescent Dunes has “several innovative features,” including a 640-foot tall solar power structure and a molten salt-based collection and storage system that will capture and focus the sun’s thermal energy with as many as 17,500 heliostats, the DOE said.

Santa Monica, Calif., based SolarReserve expects construction of the plant to begin this summer and start operations in late 2013. The power from the project will be provided to NV Energy under a long-term power purchase agreement approved by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission in 2010.

SolarReserve, which expects to spend more than $10 million per year in project operating costs said the solar technology “is a genuine alternative to baseload coal, nuclear or natural gas burning electricity generation facilities.”

The plant will use a salt compound, heated to its liquid state, that is circulated through the receiver to collect and store that energy.  The heated salt then flows to an insulated storage tank, where it is stored for use during times when direct sunlight is unavailable, allowing for 24-hour-a-day power availability. “When electricity is needed, the hot salt is sent to a heat exchanger to produce steam, which in turn drives a conventional steam turbine electrical generator,” it said. “The cooler molten salt is stored, ready to be reheated by the sun and used again as part of a continuous closed loop.”

The storage system is expected to store thermal energy for up to 10 hours. The molten salt technology was demonstrated at the Solar Two facility in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Sources: POWERnews, DOE, SolarReserve