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Molten Nitrate Salt Development for Thermal Energy Storage in Parabolic Trough Solar Power Systems

[+] Author Affiliations
Robert W. Bradshaw, Joseph G. Cordaro, Nathan P. Siegel

Sandia National Laboratories, Livermore, CA, Albuquerque, NM

Paper No. ES2009-90140, pp. 615-624; 10 pages
  • ASME 2009 3rd International Conference on Energy Sustainability collocated with the Heat Transfer and InterPACK09 Conferences
  • ASME 2009 3rd International Conference on Energy Sustainability, Volume 2
  • San Francisco, California, USA, July 19–23, 2009
  • Conference Sponsors: Advanced Energy Systems Division and Solar Energy Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-4890-6 | eISBN: 978-0-7918-3851-8
  • Copyright © 2009 by ASME


Multi-component molten salts have been formulated recently that may enhance thermal energy storage for parabolic trough solar power plants. This paper presents further developments regarding molten salt mixtures consisting of common alkali nitrates and either alkaline earth nitrates or alkali nitrite salts that have advantageous properties for applications as heat transfer fluids in parabolic trough systems. We report results for formulations of inorganic molten salt mixtures that display freeze-onset temperatures below 100°C. In addition to phasechange behavior, several properties of these molten salts that significantly affect their suitability as thermal energy storage fluids were evaluated, including chemical stability and viscosity. The nitrate-based molten salts have demonstrated chemical stability in the presence of air up to 500°C. The capability to operate at temperatures up to 500°C may allow an increase in maximum temperature operating capability vs. organic fluids in existing trough systems and will enable increased power cycle efficiency. Experimental measurements of viscosity were performed from near the freeze-onset temperature to about 200°C. Viscosities can exceed 100 cP near the freezing temperature but are 4 to 5 cP in the anticipated operating temperature range. Experimental measurements of density, thermal conductivity and heat capacity are in progress and will be reported at the meeting. Corrosion tests were conducted for several thousand hours at 500°C with stainless steels and at 350°C for carbon and chromium-molybdenum steels. Examination of the specimens demonstrated good compatibility of these materials with the molten nitrate salt mixtures. Laboratory studies were conducted to identify mixtures of nitrate and nitrite (NO2 − ) salts as additional candidates for a low-melting heat transfer fluid. Mixtures in which the cations were potassium, sodium and lithium, in various proportions, demonstrated freezing points as low as 70°C for a particular nitrate/nitrite anion composition. Development has emphasized mixtures that minimize lithium content in order to reduce the cost as the lithium salt is the most expensive constituent. Work is in progress to explore the phase diagram of the 1:1 mol ratio of nitrate/nitrite and to evaluate physical properties such as viscosity, density and thermal conductivity. Results to date indicate that the viscosity of these mixtures is considerably less than nitrate-only melts, which necessarily contain calcium cations to suppress freezing to similarly low temperatures.

Copyright © 2009 by ASME



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