Using solid particulates as a heat absorption and transfer medium in solar concentrated systems is a solution for collecting and storing thermal energy. Solid particulates, such as sand, are relatively inexpensive and are much less corrosive and expensive to maintain than molten salts. Small particles may be stored easily, and can be used as a heat transfer medium for use with a suitable heat exchanger. Despite their anticipated low cost, excessive degradation of the particulates requiring replenishment or disrupting operation could impair the overall economics. Consequently, the durability of the particulates should be verified. Responding to this need, this study examines the durability of solid particulates as a heat transfer medium in a closed cycle for concentrated solar power central receiver systems. Specifically, this study analyzes the combination of attrition and sintering of sand with varying temperatures. Attrition is the reduction of a particle’s mass and sintering is a process of fusing two or more particles together to form a larger agglomerate. In a closed cycle, particularly for a concentrated solar power tower, a particle will experience typical temperatures from 600°C to 1000°C. The increase in temperature may change the physical characteristics of the particles and along with any impurities may promote lower softening point bonding. Thus, it is important to investigate particle durability at high temperatures.
The experimental procedure used in this investigation involves heating and abrading particulates of a known mass and size distribution to temperatures between 600°C and 1000°C, and also at 25°C to observe attrition only. The testing is conducted using a specially designed experimental apparatus described below. The heated particulates are contained in a metal cylinder. Inside the cylinder is another cylinder made of a porous silicon carbide foam. As the temperature is held constant, the particulate sample is rotated 180 degrees around a horizontal axis every 15 seconds from a low position to a higher position so that the particulates fall and abrade against each other. This process is repeated for a known number of cycles (many thousands). Then the resulting particulate size distribution is measured to determine the amount of attrition and sintering occurred during the experiment. The particulates tested are various types of sand with varying mean diameters and composition, along with a ceramic particulate similar to hydraulic fracturing proppants. Sample composition, sample size distribution, and temperature will be used to establish parameters for rates of attrition and sintering. These rates will be used to predict the behavior of particulates in a concentrated solar power tower closed cycle.