World-first to reduce energy costs in drought zones

NEW technology to create a cheaper, more reliable energy source in drought-affected areas is being developed at the University of Queensland's Gatton campus.

State Government Minister for Science Leeanne Enoch today opened the new research facility at Gatton where the technology is being developed for domestic and international use.

The hybrid cooling tower technology aims to reduce the amount of water used in thermal power generation, a major issue for arid and drought-affected regions.

Lead researcher Dr Kamel Hooman said the research aimed to reduce water consumption in future Queensland power generation plants by over 70,000 megalitres a year by 2020, equivalent to about 28,000 Olympic sized swimming pools.

"The hybrid cooling tower technology uses a combination of water and air cooling, depending on the conditions," he said.

"It operates in the 'dry' mode, which requires no water, for a majority of the year.

"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.

"The technology offers the prospect of making geothermal and solar thermal power generation viable in regional areas suffering from drought.

"The implications of this are huge - offering up a reliable electricity supply without posing a significant environmental cost on rural communities."

The research team was also involved in developing a low cost solar thermal power plant suitable for regional Australia.

Dr Hooman said the development of an efficient cooling tower was a necessary precursor to low cost solar thermal power generation.

Ms Enoch said the technology could transform electricity generation in Australia and overseas by cutting water consumption and operating costs.

"Water conservation is a significant challenge in arid areas and there is a substantial market for technologies that make the most efficient use of this valuable resource," Ms Enoch said.

"In Queensland, we're well aware of how precious water is and we know that in drought, you can't afford to waste a single drop.

"Electricity generation requires large quantities of water and, in response to this challenge, research organisations 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."

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