The energy conversion effectiveness of the central receiver absorber in concentrating solar thermal power systems is dictated primarily by heat losses, material temperature limits, and pumping power losses. To deliver concentrated solar energy to a gas for process heat applications or gas cycle power generation, there are a wide variety of compact heat exchanger finned surfaces that could be used to enhance the convective transfer of absorbed solar energy to the gas stream flowing through the absorber. In such circumstances, a key design objective for the absorber is to maximize the heat transfer thermodynamic performance while minimizing the pumping power necessary to drive the gas flow through the fin matrix. This paper explores the use of different performance metrics to quantify the combined heat transfer, thermodynamic and pressure loss effectiveness of enhanced fins surfaces used in solar thermal absorbers for gas heating. Previously defined heat exchanger performance metrics, such as the “goodness factor”, are considered, and we develop and explore the use of a new metric, the “loss factor”, for determining the preferred enhanced fin matrix surfaces for concentrated solar absorbers. The loss factor, defined as the normalized exergy loss in the receiver, can be used for nondimensional analysis of the desirable qualities in an optimized solar receiver design. In comparison to previous goodness factor methods, the loss factor metric has the advantage that it quantifies the trade-off between trying to maximize the solar exergy transferred to the gas (high heat transfer rate and delivery at high temperature) and minimizing the pumping exergy loss. In this study, the loss factor is used to compare current solar receiver designs, and designs that use a variety of available plate-finned compact heat transfer surfaces with known Colburn factor (j) and friction factor (f) characteristics. These examples demonstrate how the loss factor metric can be used to design and optimize novel solar central receiver systems, and they indicate fin matrix surfaces that are particularly attractive for this type of application.

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