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CSIRO claims solar energy breakthrough

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CSIRO has used solar energy to generate hot and pressurised 'supercritical' steam, at the highest temperatures ever achieved in the world outside of fossil fuel sources.

According to the CSIRO, supercritical steam is a breakthrough for solar energy and means that one day the sun could be used to drive the most advanced power stations in the world, currently only driven by coal or gas.

CSIRO's Energy Director, Dr Alex Wonhas said this milestone is a game-changer for the renewable energy industry.

"It's like breaking the sound barrier; this step change proves solar has the potential to compete with the peak performance capabilities of fossil fuel sources," Dr Wonhas said.

Commercial solar thermal power plants around the world use subcritical steam, operating at similar temperatures but at lower pressure. If these plants were able to move to supercritical steam, it would increase the efficiency and help to lower the cost of solar electricity.

The $9.7 million research program is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and is part of a broader collaboration with Abengoa Solar, the largest supplier of solar thermal electricity in the world.

The government has decided to axe ARENA as part of its plan to head towards a budget surplus. In addition, the CSIRO has experienced further cuts.

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