CSIRO is building the largest solar-power tower of its type in the world at the National Solar Energy Centre in Newcastle.

The site will consist of around 450 mirrors (heliostats) that will direct solar heat onto a 30m-high tower to produce super-heated compressed air for a Brayton Cycle turbine.

"The new technology will pave the way for solar power of the future — solar power that only requires the sun and air to create electricity," says the director of CSIRO’s Energy Transformed Flagship, Dr Alex Wonhas.

"The field will be used to refine the technology in order to make it a cheaper, more efficient energy source that is suitable for many desert locations in Australia, and the world.

"Most solar thermal power stations require water to operate a steam turbine to produce electricity. Our Brayton Cycle technology does not need water. This technology is therefore ideally suited to many parts of Australia that only receive minimal rainfall."

CSIRO received $5 million in funding from the Australian Solar Institute (ASI) — an Australian Government initiative — to build the field and conduct research over two years.

The field will cover an area of 4,000 sqm and once built will be capable of operating at temperatures above 900 degrees Celsius.

The field will be fully operational by March 2011 and is being built adjacent to an existing solar tower field that creates SolarGas — using water and natural gas — at the National Solar Energy Centre site.