Molten-salt thermocline tanks are a low-cost energy storage option for concentrating solar power plants. Despite the potential economic advantage, the capacity of thermocline tanks to store sufficient amounts of high-temperature heat is limited by the low energy density of the constituent sensible-heat storage media. A promising design modification replaces conventional rock filler inside the tank with an encapsulated phase-change material (PCM), contributing a latent heat storage mechanism to increase the overall energy density. The current study presents a new finite-volume approach to simulate mass and energy transport inside a latent heat thermocline tank at low computational cost. This storage model is then integrated into a system-level model of a molten-salt power tower plant to inform tank operation with respect to realistic solar collection and power production. With this system model, PCMs with different melting temperatures and heats of fusion are evaluated for their viability in latent heat storage for solar plants. Thermocline tanks filled with a single PCM do not yield a substantial increase in annual storage or plant output over a conventional rock-filled tank of equal size. As the melting temperature and heat of fusion are increased, the ability of the PCM to support steam generation improves but the corresponding ability of the thermocline tank to utilize this available latent heat decreases. This trend results from an inherent deconstruction of the heat-exchange region inside the tank between sensible and latent heat transfer, preventing effective use of the added phase change for daily plant operations. This problem can be circumvented with a cascaded filler structure composed of multiple PCMs with their melting temperatures tuned along the tank height. However, storage benefits with these cascaded tank structures are shown to be highly sensitive to the proper selection of the PCM melting points relative to the thermocline tank operating temperatures.


Molten-salt thermocline tank, latent heat storage, concentrating solar power, power tower

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S. M. Flueckiger and S. V. Garimella, “Latent-Heat Augmentation of Thermocline Energy Storage for Concentrating Solar Power – A System-Level Assessment,” Applied Energy, Vol. 116, pp. 278-287, 2014.