Concentrating solar power (CSP) continues to advance as worldwide interest in renewable energy continues to grow. CSP technologies, including parabolic troughs, power towers, and dish/engines, provide the unique potential for low-cost thermal energy storage that will ensure that renewable energy can become cost-competitive with traditional fossil fuel sources on a large scale and comprise a significant portion of the global energy portfolio.
The challenge is to develop cost-effective thermal energy storage to ensure that renewable energy can become a major part of the national and global energy supply. Storage fluid selection is a critical decision that must fulfill a number of criteria to not only provide long-term reliability, but also to remain cost-competitive in the power generation arena. The state-of-the-art thermal storage design uses a 2-tank molten salt configuration. However, most molten salt mixtures have a relatively high freezing temperature, which poses some system design issues. Additionally, the price of molten salt mixtures is steadily increasing. Current laboratory and industry research efforts have shifted focus to exploration of alternative storage fluids to significantly reduce costs.
In this study, several storage fluid candidates have been selected based on an attractive combination of thermodynamic properties, cost, and availability. In this paper, rapid screening of fluid candidates is reported, and an expanded series of thermal cycling and supercritical characterization experiments have been planned and are being implemented to determine the long-term durability of the fluid candidates over a range of operating temperatures for extended periods of time. Commercial-grade materials were used, and in the case of naphthalene and biphenyl, the testing procedure was carefully controlled to prevent sublimation of the sample. This paper presents the results of a study investigating the thermal stability of several organic fluids. Samples were extracted and chemical analyses such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and gas chromatography (GC) were conducted to observe degradation behavior and decomposition pathways. The rapid screening phase provided a timely and effective filter of the best-performing fluid candidates for supercritical thermal energy storage.