Life Cycle Assessment of a Power Tower Concentrating Solar Plant and the Impacts of Key Design Alternatives

Michael B. Whitaker, Garvin A. Heath, John J. Burkhardt, Craig S. Turchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus Citations


A hybrid life cycle assessment (LCA) is used to evaluate four sustainability metrics over the life cycle of a power tower concentrating solar power (CSP) facility: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water consumption, cumulative energy demand (CED), and energy payback time (EPBT). The reference design is for a dry-cooled, 106 MWnet power tower facility located near Tucson, AZ that uses a mixture of mined nitrate salts as the heat transfer fluid and storage medium, a two-tank thermal energy storage system designed for six hours of full load-equivalent storage, and receives auxiliary power from the local electric grid. A thermocline-based storage system, synthetically derived salts, and natural gas auxiliary power are evaluated as design alternatives. Over its life cycle, the reference plant is estimated to have GHG emissions of 37 g CO2eq/kWh, consume 1.4 L/kWh of water and 0.49 MJ/kWh of energy, and have an EPBT of 15 months. Using synthetic salts is estimated to increase GHG emissions by 12%, CED by 7%, and water consumption by 4% compared to mined salts. Natural gas auxiliary power results in greater than 10% decreases in GHG emissions, water consumption, and CED. The thermocline design is most advantageous when coupled with the use of synthetic salts.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)5896-5903
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number11
StatePublished - 4 Jun 2013

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-57618


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