High temperature central receivers are on the forefront of concentrating solar power research. Current receivers use liquid cooling and power steam cycles, but new receivers are being designed to power gas turbine engines within a power cycle while operating at a high efficiency. To address this, a lab-scale Small Particle Heat Exchange Receiver (SPHER), a high temperature solar receiver, was built and is currently undergoing testing at the San Diego State University’s (SDSU) Combustion and Solar Energy Laboratory. The final goal is to design, build, and test a full-scale SPHER that can absorb 5 MWth and eventually be used within a Brayton cycle.

The SPHER utilizes air mixed with carbon particles generated in the Carbon Particle Generator (CPG) as an absorption medium for the concentrated solar flux. Natural gas and nitrogen are sent to the CPG where the natural gas undergoes pyrolysis to carbon particles and nitrogen is used as the carrier gas. The resulting particle-gas mixture flows out of the vessel and is met with dilution air, which flows to the SPHER.

The lab-scale SPHER is an insulated steel vessel with a spherical cap quartz window. For simulating on-sun testing, a solar flux is produced by a solar simulator, which consists of a 15kWe xenon arc lamp, situated vertically, and an ellipsoidal reflector to obtain a focus at the plane of the receiver window. The solar simulator has been shown to produce an output of about 3.25 kWth within a 10 cm diameter aperture. Inside of the SPHER, the carbon particles in the inlet particle-gas mixture absorb radiation from the solar flux. The carbon particles heat the air and eventually oxidize to carbon dioxide, resulting in a clear outlet fluid stream.

Since testing was initiated, there have been several changes to the system as we have learned more about the operation. A new extinction tube was designed and built to obtain more accurate mass loading data. Piping and insulation for the CPG and SPHER were improved based on observations between testing periods. The window flange and seal have been redesigned to incorporate window film cooling. These improvements have been made in order to achieve the lab scale SPHER design objective gas outlet flow of 650°C at 5 bar.

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