Power plant water use and consumption continues to be an issue, particularly as large regions of the U.S. experience prolonged droughts. A new research effort at Argonne National Laboratory tries to address the problem through the development of a special class of nanoparticles designed to cut the amount of water lost when using steam-based generator systems.
For years, plant operators have looked for ways to reduce the amount of water their plants use and consume. Many efforts have centered on the development of new decision-support systems to better manage water and improve conservation techniques. Additionally, Department of Energy research programs related to water use have focused on innovative water reuse and recovery, advanced cooling technologies, and new approaches to water treatment.
The Argonne research is exploring ways to use specially designed nanoparticles to improve water use in coal and nuclear plants that use turbines to generate electricity.
After steam is used to drive turbines, it is cooled with a condenser where heat is transferred to circulating water. To dissipate the heat, the water is partially evaporated in a cooling tower, which means some of it is lost to the atmosphere.
According to the Argonne researchers, adding nanoparticles to the circulating water system has two benefits: it allows the water to pick up more heat, and reduces the amount of water lost while still dissipating the same amount of heat. Specifically, once dispersed in a plant’s water supply, the nanoparticles are able to absorb heat during the thermal cycle. After partially melting, the particles travel to the cooling tower where they resolidify. The end result is that a system needs less water to pick up the same amount of heat.
This new effort at Argonne is being driven by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), as part of its Breakthrough Technology program exploring high-risk, high-reward concepts. (For this work, EPRI is providing funding to Argonne.)
The research is still in the early stages. However, Argonne is working with the EPRI and other partners to move this basic technology quickly through the developmental pipeline. Initial plans call for proof of concept demonstrations to begin this year, with full-scale commercial deployment to start in four years.