Sand---Cost-effective thermal energy storage material?
Plenty of researches in CSP domain are making progress. Heat Transfer Fluid (HTF) and Thermal Energy Storage (TES) system play a critical role in CSP plants, and heat storage material is surely catching the eyesight of industry players and researchers.
An ideal heat storage material is characterized with cost-effectiveness, high availability, safety, strong chemical stability, easy operation, high efficiency and large heat storage capacity. Currently the most common TES material used in CSP plants is molten salt, which is a mixture of potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate in a certain portion. Despite a lot of advantages, limitations such as the costs and high melting point of molten salt encourage researchers to seek for other alternatives.
Mr. Nicolas Calvet, Thermal Energy Storage Group from Masdar Institute of Science & Technology, talks to CSP Focus that they have been devoting to the R&D of sand and natural sand is finally proven to be a good TES material. Sand owns lots of proper features: it could store thermal energy over 800; sand is cheap and easy to access; There is no pretreatment process, lowering the cost of labor and time; In-place heating could be implemented in accompany with a beam down system, allowing for less complex heating system by avoiding fluidized bed. In a nutshell, the research reveals that the use of sand helps CSP gain a bright prospect in UAE desert area.
However, “Sands tend to be more viscous when heated over 700℃, increasing the difficulty of transporting. Even though this problem could be avoided by means of a beam down system, heating sand directly by solar radiation will also meet challenges.” What’s more, there are some other questions need to be considered, for instance, how inhomogeneous natural sands give an impact on precise temperature control, how different chemical components of UAE deserts and those in other regions affect thermal storage capacity, how to transport electricity from desert area? Though there’s no reference of large scale commercial application, the study of sand as TES material is quite meaningful for China and other regions where most of the CSP plants are located in deserts.
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