Parabolic trough power systems that utilize concentrated solar energy to generate electricity are a proven technology. Industry and laboratory research efforts are now focusing on integration of thermal energy storage as a viable means to enhance dispatchability of concentrated solar energy. One option to significantly reduce costs is to use thermocline storage systems, low-cost filler materials as the primary thermal storage medium, and molten nitrate salts as the direct heat transfer fluid. Prior thermocline evaluations and thermal cycling tests at the Sandia National Laboratories’ National Solar Thermal Test Facility identified quartzite rock and silica sand as potential filler materials. An expanded series of isothermal and thermal cycling experiments were planned and implemented to extend those studies in order to demonstrate the durability of these filler materials in molten nitrate salts over a range of operating temperatures for extended timeframes. Upon test completion, careful analyses of filler material samples, as well as the molten salt, were conducted to assess long-term durability and degradation mechanisms in these test conditions. Analysis results demonstrate that the quartzite rock and silica sand appear able to withstand the molten salt environment quite well. No significant deterioration that would impact the performance or operability of a thermocline thermal energy storage system was evident. Therefore, additional studies of the thermocline concept can continue armed with confidence that appropriate filler materials have been identified for the intended application.

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