Solar thermochemical processes inherently included the conversion of solar thermal energy into chemical energy. In this paper, a new mechanism of upgrading the energy level of solar thermal energy at around 200°C was revealed based on the second law thermodynamics and was then experimentally proven. An expression was derived to describe the upgrading of the energy level from low-grade solar thermal energy to high-grade chemical energy. The resulting equation explicitly reveals the interrelations of energy levels between middle-temperature solar thermal energy and methanol fuel, and identifies the interactions of mean solar flux and the reactivity of methanol decomposition. The proposed mechanism was experimentally verified by using the fabricated 5kW prototype of the receiver∕reactor. The agreement between the theoretical and the experimental results proves the validity of the mechanism for upgrading the energy level of low-grade solar thermal energy by integrating clean synthetic fuel. Moreover, the application of this new middle-temperature solar∕methanol hybrid thermochemical process into a combined cycle is expected to have a net solar-to-electric efficiency of about 27.8%, which is competitive with other solar-hybrid thermal power plants using high-temperature solar thermal energy. The results obtained here indicate the possibility of utilizing solar thermal energy at around 200°C for electricity generation with high efficiency by upgrading the energy level of solar thermal energy, and provide an enhancement to solar thermal power plants with the development of this low-grade solar thermochemical technology in the near future.

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