This research is a part of the DOE-funded SunShot project on “High Temperature Falling Particle Receiver.” Storing thermal energy using solid particulates is a way to mitigate the time of day dependency of concentrated solar power. Small particles may be stored easily, and can be used as a heat transfer medium to transfer heat to the power cycle working fluid through a heat exchanger. This study examines the physical characteristics of solid particulates of different materials kept inside large storage containers. Particle behavior at the expected high temperatures of the concentrated solar power cycle combined with the elevated pressure experienced within the storage container must be evaluated to assess the impact on their physical properties and ensure that the particles would not sinter thereby impacting flow through the system components particularly the receiver and heat exchanger. Sintering is a process of fusing two or more particles together to form a larger agglomerate. In the proposed concentrated solar power tower design, particles will experience temperatures from 600°C to 1000°C. The increase in temperature changes the physical characteristics of the particle, along with any impurities that could form particle to particle bonds. In addition, the hydrostatic pressure exerted on particles stored inside a storage unit increases the probability of sintering. Thus, it is important to examine the characteristics of particles under elevated temperatures and pressures.
The experimental procedure involves heating particulates of a known mass and size distribution to temperatures between 600°C and 1000°C inside a crucible. As the temperature is held constant, the particulate sample is pressed upon by a piston pushing into the crucible with a known constant pressure. This process is repeated for different temperatures and pressures for varying lengths of time. The resulting particulates are cooled, and their size distribution is measured to determine the extent of sintering, if any, during the experiment. The particulates tested include various types of sand, along with alumina particles. The data from this experiment will allow designers of storage bins for the solid particulates to determine when significant sintering is expected to occur.