Sparc tests photocatalytic water splitting reactor at CSIRO

CSIRO solar tower with bright sun shining on heliostats (sparc)
Image: CSIRO

Sparc Hydrogen—a JV between the University of Adelaide, Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) and Sparc Technologies—has executed a kickstart agreement with the CSIRO to undertake on-sun testing of Sparc Hydrogen’s photocatalytic water splitting (PWS) reactor at the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle, New South Wales.

The goal of the prototype testing is to advance the technology readiness level (TRL) of Sparc Hydrogen’s PWS reactor and provide valuable data and information for the subsequent piloting phase.

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Sparc Technologies executive chairman Stephen Hunt said, “Sparc is delighted to be working with our Sparc Hydrogen partners, The University of Adelaide, FFI and
Flinders University, to undertake this testing with the CSIRO, in what we believe to be a world leading demonstration of photocatalytic water splitting in a concentrated solar field.
Completion of this test work will be a significant milestone, not only for Sparc Hydrogen, but more widely for the advancement of photocatalytic water splitting, a next generation green hydrogen production technology which does not require capital intensive electrolysers nor solar or wind farms.”

Prototype testing of Sparc Hydrogen’s reactor in real world conditions is the culmination of nearly five years of research and development work conducted by the University of Adelaide and Flinders University. Laboratory proof of concept has been successfully established whereby several lab-scale reactor prototypes have been developed and tested under simulated solar concentration. This testing has shown a hydrogen production and efficiency benefit from exposing certain photocatalyst materials to concentrated light and heat. A high-power solar simulator has recently been acquired from the United States to continue to advance the laboratory work in parallel with prototyping and pilot plant development.

The CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle was identified as being an ideal facility to conduct the first on-sun testing of Sparc Hydrogen’s PWS reactor. The facility is home to Australia’s largest solar thermal research hub. The hub comprises a 30m-high solar tower surrounded by a 4,000sqm field of 451 locally manufactured custom designed mirrors (heliostats), as shown in Figure 1, and is capable of generating temperatures of up to 1,500 degrees Celsius. The hub provides a platform that allows Australian researchers to develop, test and commercialise technologies which incorporate concentrated solar.

Sparc Hydrogen has received funding of $28,688 through the CSIRO Kick-Start Program to contribute towards the costs of the prototype testing. Kick-Start is an initiative designed to support innovative Australian start-ups and small businesses in accessing CSIRO’s research expertise and capabilities to foster growth and development.

Design of the prototype reactor module is complete and construction, including for the balance of plant, has commenced. Sparc Hydrogen is aiming to commence set-up of the prototype at the CSIRO in late July 2023 with results to be gathered over a period of approximately four weeks. A second round of testing later in the year will be considered pending results.

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The key aims of the prototype testing include:

  • Advancing the TRL of Sparc Hydrogen’s PWS reactor from 4 to 51 which is one level closer to a commercially deployable product.
  • Providing valuable data and information for pilot plant reactor design.
  • To enable benchmarking of laboratory testing under simulated solar conditions with real world results.
  • Further establishing Sparc Hydrogen as a world leading proponent of PWS technology and particularly as having a viable reactor to test new and better photocatalysts under development by leading research groups around the world.
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