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Hot Air Solar Collector

Hot Air Solar Collector

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Published by Moseyspeed

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Published by: Moseyspeed on Sep 22, 2010
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10/17/2012

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34
Home Power #72 August / September 1999 
have been interested in alternativeenergy sources since about 1985.At that time, I was experimentingwith solar-powered radios and batterychargers. Today, about 15 percent of theenergy my family consumes isgenerated by a 240 watt photovoltaicsystem, with larger generating capabilityexpected in the future. The latestaddition to our solar energy system is asolar hot air collector.
For years I have been wanting to experiment with asolar heating system to reduce winter heating bills, anda solar hot air collector seemed the right place to start.These collectors are simple because air is the heattransfer medium. This means that the glycol loops, heatexchangers, valves, and pumps commonly found inliquid collector systems are not needed.The application of solar hot air collectors is slightlydifferent than liquid collectors. Air collectors are typicallyused for space heating, while liquid collectors aretypically used for water heating. Through the proper useof heat exchangers, however, either system can beused to heat water or air.
Collector Basics
Solar hot air collectors are simple and reliable. Cold airis drawn through the collector with a blower. It is heatedas it comes in contact with an absorber plate exposedto the sun, and then returned as hot air for heatingapplications. The collector contains no moving parts,and is typically constructed of an aluminum frame,insulation on the back and sides, and tempered glasson the front. Ablack absorber plate is located betweenthe glass and the back insulation.
Ralf Seip
 ©1999 Ralf Seip
Figure 1:Basic solar hot air collector and operation.
The solar collector installed outside the basement workshop.
Experiments
 E x p e r i m e n t s
With Solar Hot Air Collectors
With Solar Hot Air Collectors
I
I
Tempered glassAbsorberAluminum enclosureCold air inletBack insulationDeadair spaceBaffleHot air outlet
 A i r  f l o w  p a t h
 A i r  f l o w  p a t h
Baffle
 
35
Home Power #72 August / September 1999 
Solar Thermal
These collectors are of the single glazing/dead airspace design, since some air is trapped between theabsorber and the glazing. The absorber warms upwhen exposed to the sun, and some of this heat istransferred to the air between the absorber and theback insulation. Some absorber plates have dimplesthat create turbulence in the air, to better transfer heatto the air. Figure 1 shows a typical solar hot air collectorof the single glazing/dead air space design.
System Description
The solar hot air collector system described in thisarticle is used to warm up my basement workshop.Eventually, it will be used to warm up the living roomlocated above the workshop through the existing forcedair furnace ductwork. For the initial tests and evaluationperiod, I wanted to keep modifications to the house andexisting ducts to a minimum.The system consists of a 1.2 by 2.4 m (4 x 8 ft) SunAire solar hot air collector sold by AAASolar, severalinsulated 15 cm (6 in) diameter ducts used to transportair to the collector and back to the workshop, a low-power fan to force the air through the collector, and atemperature control circuit that turns the fan on and offas required.
Collector
The collector faces south and is mounted on a simplebut strong stainless steel structure, at an angle of 55degrees. I assembled the structure out of 1.2 and 1.5 m(4 and 5 ft) lengths of slotted steel bars, available atlocal hardware stores. As a rule of thumb, to maximizethe heating capability of the collectors in the wintermonths, they should be tilted to an angle equal to yourlocation’s latitude plus 15 degrees.The structure is located close to thebasement wall and is weighteddown by 110 kg (243 lbs) of gravel.This temporary arrangement hassurvived wind gusts over 110kilometers per hour (70+ mph).Eventually, I hope to anchor thestructure properly to the concreteslab on which it now sits. Thephotographs show the collector andmounting structure. The collector isof the single glazing/dead air spacedesign described previously, and itsabsorber plate is dimpled for highertransfer efficiency.
Fan & Ductwork
An insulated (R-4) flexible ductabout 3 m (10 ft) in length transportscold basement air from the cold airinlet to the collector. I used aluminum tape on all duct joints to ensure an airtight seal. Asmall 14 watt ACmuffin fan is able to push about 1.7 m
3
per minute (60cf/min) of air through the collector. The collector heatsthe air, which returns to the basement through a similarduct and exits through the hot air outlet.Muffin-type fans are typically not well suited for pushinglarge volumes of air through long ducts. Squirrel cageblowers (centrifugal blowers) are better at this task. Thelowest power squirrel cage blower I found consumed 45watts. The muffin fan seems to be adequate for thisinstallation, as will be seen from the measuredtemperature increases and computed efficiencies later.To keep house modifications to a minimum, the ductsenter and leave the basement through a window. I builta custom plywood/insulating foam/plywood panel thatfits inside the open window frame and holds the ducts,fan, and circuit in place. I fastened the panel to thewindow frame with screws and used foamweatherstripping to prevent cold air from seeping intothe house.It is important to locate the hot air outlet above the coldair inlet, and the collector surface below both. This way,the fan is not working against the natural tendency ofwarm air to rise. It also transfers the colder workshopair to the collector first, and warmer workshop air doesnot get cooled down by the colder collector at night.The result is a more efficient system that does notrequire the addition of a backdraft damper to preventnighttime cooling through the collector.If such an arrangement of collector and duct exits is notpossible (such as in rooftop mounted systems), a
Back of the solar collector showing part of the support structure,as well as insulated cold and hot air ducts.
 
36
Home Power #72 August / September 1999 
Solar Thermal
backdraft damper will be needed to prevent nighttimecooling. Notice the similarities between these guidelinesand those for thermosyphon liquid-based collectorsystems. AAASolar Supply’s
Solar Design Catalog 
hasexcellent installation guidelines for rooftop-mountedsolar air collectors.
Temperature Control
The fan is controlled by a simple temperature controlcircuit. I designed and built the circuit over a weekend,and it is described in detail in the sidebar. For the circuitto operate properly, one thermistor needs to beexposed to the cold workshop temperature (close to thecold air inlet), and the second thermistor needs to beplaced inside the hot air outlet.Warm air rising from the collector through the duct willreach the second thermistor, increasing its temperature.Once its temperature is approximately 2°C (3.6°F)warmer than that of the cold air thermistor, the fan isactivated automatically and the system starts pushingwarm air into the room.To collect the temperature information presented in thisarticle, I installed a digital thermometer capable ofmeasuring two temperatures simultaneously. I used thisthermometer to measure the workshop temperatureand the temperature of the warm air coming from thecollector after it had travelled through the 3 m (10 ft)return duct. The thermometer and temperature circuitcan be seen in the photo to the left.
System Cost
The main components of the system and their cost arelisted in the table. Notice that the total system cost issimilar to that of about two typical photovoltaic modules.Sadly, crating and shipping charges are a largepercentage of the overall system cost.
System Performance
To best illustrate the operation and effectiveness of thesolar hot air collector, I measured typical air inlet, airoutlet, and outside air temperatures for several days inintervals of 30 minutes. This allowed me to compute thepower and energy produced by my system, as well asits efficiency. It also allowed me to give quantifiedanswers to questions such as “Does the basement feelwarmer now?” and “Does the system pay for itself?” It isinteresting to see that solar energy does definitelyimpact the bottom line.To perform these computations, it is necessary tointroduce several physical constants, system-specificconstants, and the underlying simple heat energyequation.
Physical Constants & Conversions
Specific heat of air (constant pressure, and 27 to 47°C):
c=1.007 kJ / kg °K
Insulated duct adapter panel,showing the fanin front of the cold air inlet (lower right),the hot air outlet (upper left),the temperature controlcircuit,and the dual thermometer.
System Cost
ItemCos
$415$185$80$40$25$15Total$7604 x 8 ft solar hot air collectorShipping and crating chargesMounting structureDucts, adaptors, and insulated panelTemperature control circuit and fanDual-monitoring thermometer

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