Life cycle assessment of Solar Updraft Tower Power Plant: EROEI and GWP as a design tool

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Zongker, James D.
Ahmed, Ikramuddin
The Solar Updraft Tower Power Plant (SUTPP) is a simple proven concept capable of producing power from sunlight with relatively little complexity and few moving parts. Unfortunately, it requires a large investment to build huge greenhouse-like collector to feed heated air into a very tall chimney, where it rises due to natural convection and spins turbo-generators that provide electric power. Substantial research has gone into understanding its physics, modeling its performance, and optimizing its fundamental design aspects. Economic analyses indicate it is feasible, proposals have been made, and the proposal for the first commercial plant has been floated. This thesis considers a few well researched configurations, and examines their environmental impacts (via a Life Cycle Assessment) of Global Warming Potential (GWP), and Energy Returned On Energy Invested (EROEI), including some of the practical aspects of building and operating a SUTPP. The best glass SUTPP studied had an EROEI of 7, comparable to photovoltaic power generation. Use of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) raised that to 14, approaching wind power (18), and permitted an EROEI of 10 for an airflow regulated SUTPP capable of baseload power or of shifting some generation to peak demand times. The collector was the largest contributor to life cycle impacts. Sites with risk of damaging hail should be avoided. Glass and ETFE offer favorable combinations of durability and recyclability. Evidence is cited suggesting the collector needs a cleaning system. Design strategies to facilitate cleaning and employ ETFE are discussed. Areas requiring further research have been identified and recommendations have been provided, along with the most promising SUTPP configurations based upon this research.
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Thesis (M.S.)--Wichita State University, College of Engineering, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering