Novel Solar Thermal Power Plant Opens in Egypt

On February 27th, the MATS power plant was officially inaugurated in the City of Science and Technology in Borg El Arab, which is located in Egypt west of Alexandria. The first of its kind, the new solar thermal power plant was developed within the project »Multipurpose Applications by Thermodynamic Solar - MATS«, carried out by a consortium of European and Egyptian partners and co-financed by the European Union. The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE provided scientific support for the project.

Parabolic Trough Power Plant
© Fraunhofer ISE
The parabolic trough power plant with collector area of 10,000m² has an electrical power of one megawatt.
Opening Ceremony
© Fraunhofer ISE
At the opening ceremony, the Egyptian Minister for Research and Higher Education, Khalid Atef Abdul Ghaffar (second from left), the Italian ambassador Giampaolo Cantini (third from left), James Moran, the ambassador of the EU in Egypt (third from right) and the MATS coordinator Dr. Alberto Giaconia (second from right).
Single tank storage
© Fraunhofer ISE
Single tank storage (foreground) and back-up gas burner (middle).

The MATS solar thermal power plant has an electrical power of 1 MW and is based on parabolic trough collectors with an area of 10,000 m².  The new plant, in which about 22 million euros were invested (12.5 million € contribution from the EU), can be operated in either grid-connected or stand-alone mode. The plant meets the electricity demand of more than 1000 people and the waste heat is utilized to desalinate approximately 250,000 liters of water per day, a precious commodity in an arid climate zone.

The system uses molten salt, a mixture of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate, as heat transfer fluid (HTF). The integration of a heat storage system allows the plant to provide continued electricity generation and desalination after sunset for up to four hours, at times of especially intensive demand. In comparison to thermal oil, the typical heat transfer medium in parabolic trough collectors, molten salts are characterized by their safety, environmental friendliness and easy handling.  They function under low pressures and high temperatures up to 550 °C, thus contributing to higher power plant efficiency.

A particular feature of the MATS plant is the single tank storage. Both hot (550 °C) and cold salt (290°C) are stored in stratified layers in a single tank; no second tank is required. In addition, the steam generator is located within the storage tank, which reduces the investment costs.  Through an auxiliary gas burner power production and desalination can both be assured.

Research institutes and industry partners from Italy, France, UK, Germany and Egypt are working together in the MATS project, which is coordinated by the Italian Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development ENEA. Besides the system’s integration in the local electricity, gas and water distribution grids, the project offers training courses, imparts technical expertise, and provides new employment possibilities for the region. These all contribute to the further development of the renewable energy sector which is strategically important for North Africa in many ways. The research consortium aims to help develop the semi-arid region into a center for technology and to strengthen the cooperation between the European Union and Egypt in the area of sustainable research, innovation and development.  At the opening ceremony, the Egyptian Minister for Research and Higher Education and the Minister for Electricity as well as the Italian and EU ambassadors in Egypt were present. At a workshop in Cairo on »Public-Private Partnerships and Technology Development in Renewable Energy,« Martin Karl held a podium talk on the topic »Effective Tools and Measures to Support Innovation and Technology Transfer in the Industrial Sector.«

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