New York-based GlassPoint will build the world’s largest solar thermal power plant in Saudi Arabia.
The facility will produce steam to produce aluminum, not for electricity or to increase oil production.
In many places, the industry uses coal or natural gas to create steam. But the global economy is decarbonizing, needing renewable energy to produce steam and things like aluminum, lithium, and copper.
In this case, Saudi Arabian Mining Company will buy an industrial solar pair from GlassPoint. The bauxite oil refinery will use it to produce aluminum. When construction is completed, the 1,500-megawatt plant will help the Saudi mining company meet its sustainability goals by reducing carbon emissions by more than 600,000 tons per year, or 4% of its total carbon footprint. GlassPoint claims that solar steam will replace half of the fossil Steam currently used by the refinery. The construction of such a facility takes months, not years, the company added.
“Imagine that you are an industrial user and you need to decarbonize: do you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new technologies? Or do you allocate scant capital for your core business? Today, they buy gas to produce steam. But now they can buy solar – powered steam,” said Rod McGregor, founder and CEO of GlassPoint.
According to him, the production process is energy-intensive. The industry uses a huge amount of steam or heat. But government regulators, shareholders, and customers are putting pressure on the same producers to limit their carbon footprint.
Approximately 74% of the energy used in industry is contained in the form of steam or heat. While companies can potentially use solar panels to generate electricity and then use that electricity to produce steam, they will lose too much heat. Solar steam is much more efficient. GlassPoint uses mirrors to concentrate solar energy on pipes filled with water to create steam. This Steam or heat is used for various industrial processes. Unlike solar panels, the goal is to reflect sunlight, not absorb it to create an electric current.
It is noted that the solar-powered steam power plant should be located within 10 kilometers from the oil refinery. According to McGregor, when Steam is transferred to an oil refinery, only 1% of it is lost. And 55% of the reflected sunlight turns into steam.
Solar panels convert 12% of the sunlight they capture into electricity. In addition, the land area required for the construction of this particular steam-generated solar power plant is about 7 square kilometers. A solar photovoltaic plant requires about six times as much land.
“Solar steam is more expensive than gas,” says McGregor. “But it’s the cheapest way to get heat without emissions.”
Industries must meet the requirements of the global community and their shareholders and customers. For example, the European Union taxes companies based on the CO2 content of the products they export. GlassPoint owns solar fields and sells products to industrial consumers under supply agreements for 20-30 years. GlassPoint does not cover the total cost.
How the aluminum production process works: bauxite ore is extracted before it is dissolved in sodium hydroxide or alkali at high temperature and pressure. After that, the bauxite ores are separated from the alumina. It is then converted to aluminum by a melting process. The transition from bauxite to alumina is energy-intensive and results in a large amount of emissions. If solar steam can replace gas-fired steam, it will reduce industrial pollution.
In 2011, GlassPoint first installed a solar-powered steam plant in California. Then, in 2012, a 7 — megawatt system was installed in Amal, Oman. This project led to the conclusion of a separate contract for the production of 2,000 tons of steam per day.