Thermal energy storage (TES) system integrated with concentrated solar power provides the benefits of extending power production, eliminating intermittency issues, and reducing system LOCE. Infinia Corporation is under the contract with DOE in developing TES systems. The goal for one of the DOE sponsored TES projects is to design and build a TES system and integrate it with a 3 KWe free-piston Stirling power generator. The Phase Change Material (PCM) employed for the designed TES system is a eutectic blend of NaF and NaCl which has a melt temperature of 680° C and energy storage capacity of 12 KWh. This PCM was selected due to its low cost and desired melting temperature. This melt temperature ensures the Stirling being operated at designed operating hot end temperature. The latent heat of this eutectic PCM offers 5 to 10 times the energy density of a typical molten salt. The technical challenges associated with low cost molten salt TES systems are the low thermal conductivity of the salt and large thermal expansion. To address these challenges, an array of sodium filled Heat Pipes (HP) is embedded in the PCM to enhance the heat transfer from solar receiver to PCM and from PCM to Stirling engine. The oversized dish provides sufficient thermal energy to operate a 3KWe Stirling engine at full power and to charge up the TES. The HP arrays are optimally distributed so that the solar energy is transferred directly from receiver to Stirling engine heat receiver. During the charge phase, the Stirling engine absorbs and converts the transferred solar energy to electricity and the excess thermal energy is re-directed and stored to PCM. The stored energy is transferred via distributed HP from PCM to Stirling engine heat receiver during discharge phase.
The HP based PCM thermal energy storage system was designed, built, and performance tested in laboratory. The TES/engine assembly was tested in two different orientations representing the extremes of system operation when mounted on sun-tracking dish, horizontal and vertical. Horizontal represents the zero elevation at sun rise and the vertical represents the extreme of solar noon. The testing allows the examination of orientation effect on the heat pipe performance and the maximum charge and discharge rates. The total energy stored and extracted was also examined. The areas for further system refinements were identified and discussed.