Thermal ratcheting is a critical phenomenon associated with the cyclic operation of dual-medium thermocline tanks in solar energy applications. Although thermal ratcheting poses a serious impediment to thermocline operation, this failure mode in dual-medium thermocline tanks is not yet well understood. To study the potential for the occurrence of ratcheting, a comprehensive model of a thermocline tank that
includes both the heterogeneous filler region as well as the composite tank wall is formulated. The filler region consists of a rock bed with interstitial molten salt, while the tank wall is composed of a steel shell with two layers of insulation (firebrick and ceramic). The model accounts separately for the rock and molten-salt regions in view of their different thermal properties. Various heat loss conditions are applied at
the external tank surface to evaluate the effect of energy losses to the surroundings. Hoop stresses, which are governed by the magnitude of temperature fluctuations, are determined through both a detailed finite-element analysis and simple strain relations. The two methods are found to yield almost identical results. Temperature fluctuations are damped by heat losses to the surroundings, leading to a reduction in hoop stresses with increased heat losses. Failure is prevented when the peak hoop stress is less than the material yield strength of the steel shell. To avoid ratcheting without incurring excessive energy loss, insulation between the steel shell and the filler region should be maximized.


Solar thermal energy, thermal energy storage, molten-salt thermocline, thermal ratcheting

Date of this Version




Published in:

S. Flueckiger, Z. Yang and S. V. Garimella, “An Integrated Thermal and Mechanical Investigation of Molten-Salt Thermocline Energy Storage,” Applied Energy Vol. 88, pp. 2098-2105, 2011.