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ScienceDirect

Energy Procedia 91 (2016) 172 – 181

SHC 2015, International Conference on Solar Heating and Cooling for Buildings and Industry

energy stores in solar thermal systems

Stephan Langa*, Markus Gerschitzkaa, Dan Bauera, Harald Drücka

a

University of Stuttgart, Institute of Thermodynamics and Thermal Engineering (ITW), Research and Testing Centre for Thermal Solar Systems

(TZS), Pfaffenwaldring 6, 70550 Stuttgart, Germany

Abstract

The effective thermal conductivity of fine-grained and coarse-grained expanded perlites, fumed silica and a mixture of coarse-

grained expanded perlite and fumed silica at different vacuum pressures is experimentally investigated in this paper. For the

investigations two different test rigs – a guarded cylinder apparatus and a guarded hot plate apparatus – were used. The lowest

effective thermal conductivities were performed with fumed silica at ambient pressure, with the mixture at pressures between 1

and 10 mbar and with fine-grained expanded perlite at 0.1 mbar and lower. Mixtures of fumed silica and expanded perlites

appear to be a great chance to achieve low effective thermal conductivities and lower prices compared to pure fumed silica at

vacuum pressures that can be easily achieved for large-volume thermal energy stores.

© 2016

© 2015TheTheAuthors. Published

Authors. by Elsevier

Published Ltd. Ltd.

by Elsevier This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review by the scientific conference committee of SHC 2015 under responsibility of PSE AG.

Peer-review by the scientific conference committee of SHC 2015 under responsibility of PSE AG

Keywords: vacuum insulation; high efficient thermal insulation; thermal energy store; heat storage

1. Introduction

To achieve high solar fractions in solar thermal applications, high efficient hot water stores with high heat

capacities and thereby large volumes can be necessary. However installing such stores into dwellings means a

significant reduction of living space. Furthermore the heat losses of the store in summer can lead to an unrequested

raise of temperature in the dwelling. An outdoor installation of thermal energy stores (TES) can solve both

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +49 711 685 63614; fax: +49 711 685 63503.

E-mail address: lang@itw.uni-stuttgart.de

1876-6102 © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review by the scientific conference committee of SHC 2015 under responsibility of PSE AG

doi:10.1016/j.egypro.2016.06.196

Stephan Lang et al. / Energy Procedia 91 (2016) 172 – 181 173

problems. Lower ambient mean temperatures outdoor compared to indoor however increase the significance of a

high efficient thermal insulation. Even indoor utilization of high efficient insulated TES can reduce both problems

by decreasing the heat losses in summer (and thus the unrequested raise of temperature in the dwelling) and by

decreasing the necessary heat capacity and volume of the TES [1]. Vacuum insulation can reach the lowest effective

thermal conductivity. Thus investigations are carried out to develop and improve this technology for hot water stores

[2]. This contribution shows measuring results of the effective thermal conductivity of suitable insulation materials,

such as newly developed mixtures, for vacuum insulation. Furthermore the built up test rigs will be described.

Nomenclature

GC Guarding cylinder

GCA Guarded cylinder apparatus

GHD Guard heater deviation

GHPA Guarded hot plate apparatus

MH Measuring heater

TES Thermal energy store

Ȝcpl Thermal conductivity due to the coupling effect [W/(m·K)]

Ȝeff Effective thermal conductivity [W/(m·K)]

Ȝgas Thermal conductivity of gas [W/(m·K)]

Ȝr Thermal conductivity due to heat transfer via infrared radiation [W/(m·K)]

Ȝs Thermal conductivity of the solid matrix [W/(m·K)]

lHC Length of heating cylinder [m]

ܳሶ Heat flux [W]

ܳሶௌ Heat flux through the sample container (including the sample) [W]

ܳሶோ Heat flux through the reference material [W]

S Shape factor [m]

SGCA Shape factor of the guarded cylinder apparatus [m]

sHC Outer diameter of the heating cylinder [m]

sVC Inner diameter of the vacuum chamber [m]

2. Basic principles

In insulation materials usually three different heat transfer mechanisms take place: thermal conduction of solids

and fluids, heat flux via infrared radiation and convection. Another effect that increases the effective thermal

conductivity of primarily fiber materials and pourable particles (fillings) is the coupling effect. This describes that

(residual) gas molecules tend to accumulate near the contact spots of fibers or particles and increase the local

thermal conductivity around theses spots. At atmospheric pressure this coupling effect can be responsible for up to

50 % of the effective thermal conductivity of fine grained fillings. Convection can be neglected for the insulation

materials considered in this paper because of their small effective pore sizes. The other heat transfer mechanisms

mentioned above, can be described as thermal conductivities which can be summed up to the effective thermal

conductivity Ȝeff [W/(m·K)] (see equation (1)). This superposition principle has been established successfully in

many scientific works (e. g. [3-8]).

Ȝs thermal conductivity of the solid matrix [W/(m·K)]

Ȝgas thermal conductivity of gas [W/(m·K)]

174 Stephan Lang et al. / Energy Procedia 91 (2016) 172 – 181

Ȝr increases with the temperature and decreases with the insulation materials’ increasing capability to extinct

(absorb or reflect) infrared radiation and with increasing bulk density. Ȝs increases with the bulk density, the external

pressure and the thermal conductivity of the solid the solid matrix is made of and it decreases with increasing

porosity. Ȝgas increases with vacuum pressure, the effective pore size of the porous material and with the

temperature. The smaller the pores of the insulation material are, the higher the vacuum pressure can be to eliminate

Ȝgas (see Fig. 1).

0.03

thermal conductivity of air [W/(m·K)]

0.025

1 mm

0.02

0.1 mm

0.015

0.01 mm

0.01

0.001 mm

0.005

0

0.01 0.1 1 10 100 1000

vacuum pressure [mbar]

Fig. 1. Thermal conductivity of air in dependence of the vacuum pressure, calculated with a mathematical model of Schwab [4] for different gaps

or effective pore sizes (0.001 mm ... 1 mm).

Increasing the bulk density of a free flowing material leads to smaller pores and thus can lead to a decreasing

thermal conductivity of gas. Ȝcpl increases with the vacuum pressure, the temperature and the numbers of contact

spots between the fibers of fiber mats or between particles of fillings.

3. Methodology

3.1. Measurements

For measuring the effective thermal conductivity there are two different test rigs. One consists of a guarded hot

plate apparatus (GHPA) and a sample container for insulation materials wherein the vacuum pressure can be

adjusted (see Fig. 2a). The stakes placed into this vacuum sample container are necessary to withstand the load

resulted by the vacuum pressure. Thus their influence on the measurement results needs to be calculated. Fig. 2b

shows the measurement principle of the GHPA.

The other test rig is a guarded cylinder apparatus (GCA) consisting of a cylindrical vacuum chamber that

contains a concentrically placed heating cylinder with guarding cylinders (see Fig. 3). The vacuum chamber can be

heated separately and it can be filled with pourable insulation materials.

Both test rigs work according to the same steady state principle: a predefined temperature difference (ǻT [K]) is

set to the sample. The inner heating element (heating plate or heating cylinder) is set to the higher temperature. As

the inner heating element runs electrically the heat flux ܳሶ [W] can be measured using a power meter. Taking the

geometrical dimensions into account (surface and thickness of the measuring area of the sample, included in a shape

factor S [m]), the effective thermal conductivity Ȝeff [W/(m·K)] can be calculated according to equation (2).

Stephan Lang et al. / Energy Procedia 91 (2016) 172 – 181 175

a b

Fig. 2. (a) vacuum sample container (opened); (b) measuring principle of the GHPA. A: measuring hot plate, B: guarding heat ring, C: cooling

plates, D: temperature measurement, E: sample container (including sample), F: reference material with known effective thermal conductivity,

G: mats to ensure proper contact between the plates and the samples, ܳሶௌ : heat flux through the sample container (including the sample),

ܳሶோ : heat flux through the reference material.

The shape factor of the GHPA is the quotient of the measuring hot plates’ area (multiplied by two for

symmetrical measurements) and the thickness of the sample. The first calculation of the GCAs’ shape factor

SGCA [m] is described in equation (3).

2 S l HC (3)

S GCA

ln( sVC s HC )

sHC Outer diameter of the heating cylinder [m]

sVC Inner diameter of the vacuum chamber [m]

However equation (3) is only valid for ideal elimination of any edge effects. Because the edge effects cannot be

eliminated totally by the guarding cylinders and because of some necessary cables inside the measuring area the

shape factor is determined via calibration measurements. Therefore measurements were carried out in the GCA at

atmospheric pressure with a material previously measured symmetrically in the GHPA in open sample containers at

the same conditions (same temperature, same bulk density, material stored before at the same climatic conditions).

Thus the shape factor could be adjusted to meet the same results measured in the GHPA. Results of measurements

with other materials in the GCA showed deviations of 10 to 11 % to the results generated in the GHPA with the

same materials in open sample containers and under the same conditions. Thus the error of the shape factor on the

measured effective thermal conductivity is estimated with ±11 %.

To determine the influence of the vacuum sample container for the GHPA on the measurement results several

measurements, calculations and simulations were carried out. The effective thermal conductivity of several

insulation materials were measured in the GHPA with and without the vacuum sample container at atmospheric

pressure. Furthermore there were measurements with and without the removable stakes inside the vacuum sample

container done. Whereas the influence of the stakes was small and could be determined quite simple with the

measurements and calculations, there was still another phenomenon highly affecting the measurement results. Even

very small temperature deviations (0.1 to 0.5 K) between the measuring hot plate and the guarding heat ring (guard

heater deviation; GHD) can lead to large errors due to the high thermal conductivity of the vacuum sample

containers’ upper shell that is applied to the hot plate and guarding heat ring. Thus additional temperature

measurements on the hot plate and the guard ring with calibrated Pt100 sensors and thermal simulations were

carried out to determine the influence of these GHD. However it was not possible by now to determine the error

sufficient, because the mean temperature of the temperatures measured on several spots on the hot plate and the

176 Stephan Lang et al. / Energy Procedia 91 (2016) 172 – 181

guarding heat ring cannot be assumed to represent the whole boundary area between. Measurements without the

vacuum sample container in the GHPA however are very reliable, proven by many measurements with reference

materials. Thus results of the materials at atmospheric pressure can be used to calibrate the GCA. The maximum

error of the GHPA can be estimated with ±5 %.

In opposition to the GHPA in the GCA the GHD can be adjusted manually. Even though the temperature field

between the heating cylinder and the guarding cylinder is also not known exactly, with the results of the GHPA at

atmospheric pressure and with finding a linear correlation between GHD and the measurement results the error is

estimated comparatively small. With an assumption of max. ±0.5 K deviation between measured and actual

temperature difference the maximum error is estimated with ±1.4 mW/(m·K).

l

HC

a

HC Heating cylinder

s GC HC GC s

V H GC Guarding cylinder

Measuring area

b c

Guarded cylinder

apparatus (GCA)

Fig. 3. (a) functional sketch of the GCA (lHC: length of heating cylinder, sVC: inner diameter of the vacuum chamber, sHC: outer diameter of the

heating cylinder; (b) heating cylinder and guarding cylinders (separated by black thermal resistances) with temperature sensors and mounting;

(c) vacuum chamber with heating tape; (d) installed GCA (covered in thermal insulation) with EMSR technology and vacuum equipment.

Stephan Lang et al. / Energy Procedia 91 (2016) 172 – 181 177

The application for the vacuum thermal insulation considered in this paper is a double-walled hot water store.

The insulation material is filled in the gap between the walls, which is later evacuated. As the outer wall is rigid and

sustains the load resulted by the vacuum pressure, the insulation material is not exposed to an external load, unlike it

is in vacuum insulation panels. There are mainly two reasons why the gap is filled with insulation materials. The

main reason is – as seen in Fig. 1 – that the thermal conductivity of air and the coupling effect can be eliminated

only with very low vacuum pressures for big gaps or pores. However it is very extensive to create and maintain that

low vacuum pressure. With filling porous insulation materials with small and open pores into the gap the vacuum

pressure to eliminate the thermal conductivity of air and the coupling effect, which have the biggest share on the

effective thermal conductivity of nearly every insulation material at ambient pressure, can be set to higher values.

Furthermore the heat transfer via radiation can be decreased by the insulation material. The heat transfer via the

solid matrix that is applied with the insulation material however has a comparatively small share on the effective

thermal conductivity of most insulation materials.

The main requirements to insulation materials for the named purpose are:

x Pourable (as they need to be applied in the difficult to access gap of the described double wall)

x Open-pored (as the pores need to be evacuated)

x No outgassing substances (to maintain the vacuum)

x Temperature resistant

x Small sized pores

x High extinction capability of infrared radiation

x Low cost

In this paper the insulation materials expanded perlites (coarse-grained and fine-grained) and fumed silica are

investigated. Perlites are amorphic volcanic glasses that contain crystallization water. To create expanded perlite

fillings the perlites are powdered and heated to temperatures between 850 °C and 1000 °C. Thus the perlites get soft

and the bounded water evaporates, creating small pores and thereby expands the perlite particles. The perlites

investigated in this paper have maximum grain sizes of 2 mm (coarse-grained, see Fig. 4a) and 200 μm (fine-

grained, see Fig. 4b).

Fumed silica is made from flame pyrolysis and consists of pure SiO2. The primary particles of the fumed silica

investigated in this paper have grain sizes of 10 to 15 nm. These primary particles are arranged to fibrous aggregates

with equivalent diameters of 100 to 150 nm. These aggregates build agglomerates with equivalent diameters of

around 10 μm. Under slight external pressure these agglomerates can build big clusters with a high porosity (see

Fig. 4c). Fumed silica is the mostly used core material for vacuum insulation panels. Therefore it is mixed with

fibers and infrared opacifiers – due to its poor capability of infrared extinction compared to perlites – and

compressed to boards.

a b c

Fig. 4. (a) coarse-grained expanded perlite; (b) fine-grained expanded perlite; (c) fumed silica [9].

178 Stephan Lang et al. / Energy Procedia 91 (2016) 172 – 181

With fumed silica much smaller effective pore sizes can be reached than with expanded perlites. However the

price of fumed silica is with 4.5 to 8 €/kg [10] much higher than for expanded perlite with ca. 1.2 €/kg [11]. To

decrease the pore sizes between the grains of coarse grained perlite it appears to be promising to add a smaller

amount of fumed silica. Thus a mixture of 70 mass-% coarse grained perlite and 30 mass-% fumed silica is

investigated in this paper.

The results of the effective thermal conductivity as a function of vacuum pressure measured in the GCA at a

mean temperature of 48 °C and a temperature difference of 10 K between heating cylinder and vacuum chamber are

presented in

Fig. 5.

70

65

effective thermal conductivity [mW/(m·K)]

(183 kg/m³)

55

50

coarse-grained expanded

45 perlite (73 kg/m³)

40

35 fumed silica (43 kg/m³)

30

25

70 mass-% coarse-grained

20 expanded perlite and

15 30 mass-% fumed silica

(97 kg/m³)

10

5

0

0.01 0.1 1 10 100 1000

vacuum pressure [mbar]

Fig. 5. Effective thermal conductivity as a function of vacuum pressure measured in the GCA at a mean temperature of 48 °C and a temperature

difference of 10 K between heating cylinder and vacuum chamber. The bulk density of each insulation material can be found in the caption in

parentheses.

The effective thermal conductivity of fine-grained expanded perlite at 970 mbar (ambient pressure at the

investigation site) is used as reference and matches the value measured in the GHPA. Thus the max. measurement

error on this value correlates to the max. error of the GHPA with ±5 %. As mentioned in chapter 3.1 the error on the

other measuring points can be estimated with ±11 % on the effective thermal conductivity for the shape factor

calibration and with max. ±1.4 mW/(m·K) due to uncertainties of the determination of the GHD.

The fine-grained expanded perlite has higher effective thermal conductivity at atmospheric pressure

(61.6 mW/(m·K)) than the coarse-grained expanded perlite (46.4 mW/(m·K)). This can be explained mainly by a

higher coupling effect due to more contact points between the finer grains. The higher bulk density also leads to a

higher thermal conductivity of the solid matrix, but as the effective thermal conductivity at 0.02 mbar is lower for

the fine-grained expanded perlite (8.3 mW/(m·K) vs. 11.5 mW/(m·K)) the effect of decreasing the radiative heat flux

with higher bulk densities seems to overcompensate the increase of solid matrix heat flux. As the effective thermal

conductivity of the coarse-grained type is not constant between 0.1 and 0.02 mbar influences of residual gas cannot

be excluded, as well as the described measurement uncertainties. Furthermore the thermal conductivity of air in the

Stephan Lang et al. / Energy Procedia 91 (2016) 172 – 181 179

fine-grained expanded perlite can be decreased and eliminated with higher vacuum pressures due to the smaller

pores – especially between the grains – compared to the coarse-grained type. In the literature there are with

theoretically 7 mW/(m·K) lower values found for the same type of coarse-grained expanded perlite at 0.01 mbar and

50 °C with a bulk density of 60 kg/m³ [12].

Fumed silica has with 34.6 mW/(m·K) the lowest effective thermal conductivity of the investigated materials at

ambient pressure. That can be explained by the very low thermal conductivity of the solid matrix – due to the low

bulk density and high porosity – and with the very small effective pore size, decreasing the thermal conductivity of

air even at atmospheric pressure. Because of the small pore size fumed silica reaches its’ lowest effective thermal

conductivity at the highest vacuum pressure compared to the other materials. However the effective thermal

conductivity at low vacuum pressures is with 16.4 mW/(m·K) noticeable higher compared to the expanded perlites.

This can be explained with the lower infrared extinction of fumed silica with a Rosseland mean extinction

coefficient of 23 m²/kg at 25 °C [3] compared to expanded perlites with ca. 43 m²/kg at 26 °C [12] and with the

lower bulk density also increasing the heat flux via infrared radiation. Because of the poor infrared extinction of

fumed silica it is commonly mixed with an infrared opacifier that can increase the Rosseland mean extinction

coefficient to 90 m²/kg at 25 °C [3]. To check the plausibility of the measured value of fumed silica the thermal

conductivity due to heat transfer via infrared radiation can be calculated according to the gray Rosseland

approximation, e. g. described in [13]. With a mean temperature of 48 °C, a bulk density of 43 kg/m³ and the

assumption that the Rosseland mean extinction coefficient of 23 m²/kg is also valid at 48 °C mean temperature, a

value of 10.1 mW/(m·K) can be calculated. That would imply a thermal conductivity of the solid matrix of

6.3 mW/(m·K), which is very high compared to the literature, where values of lower than 1 mW/(m·K) are described

for fumed silica at a bulk density of 50 kg/m³ and mixed with opacifiers that have higher solid thermal

conductivities than fumed silica [3]. As the measured values for the coarse-grained expanded perlite are also higher

than described in the literature (see above) further measurement uncertainties that are not considered yet cannot be

excluded.

The mixture of coarse-grained expanded perlite and fumed silica seems to be a promising chance to reduce both

the effective thermal conductivity compared to perlites at vacuum pressures of around 10 mbar and the costs

compared to pure fumed silica. The mixtures’ effective thermal conductivity is with 38.2 mW/(m·K) higher

compared to fumed silica at ambient pressure – due to the larger effective pore sizes leading to a higher thermal

conductivity of air and due to the higher bulk density leading to a higher thermal conductivity of the solid matrix.

However the expanded perlite decreases the heat flux of infrared radiation and thus the effective thermal

conductivity is lower with vacuum pressures of 10 mbar and beneath compared to fumed silica.

Achieving and maintaining vacuum pressures of 1 mbar and lower at mean temperatures in the insulation of hot

water stores with around 50 °C turned out to be very challenging for large volumes of fine porous materials. Thus

finding a low-cost material that offers low effective thermal conductivities at easy to achieve vacuum pressures is a

very important task to promote the technology of vacuum thermal insulated systems like thermal energy stores.

Further experiments with smaller shares of fumed silica or with the lower priced precipitated silica will be carried

out during the further procedure.

Fig. 6a shows the effective thermal conductivity as a function of the samples’ mean temperature, measured in the

GHPA at atmospheric pressure for fine-grained and coarse-grained expanded perlites and for fumed silica. While the

inclination of effective thermal conductivity with the temperature is constant and nearly equal for the perlites, the

fumed silica’s inclination is higher and increases with higher temperatures. That shows the lower infrared extinction

compared to the perlites described above. Because of the higher bulk density of fine-grained perlite compared to the

coarse-grained type a higher inclination of the coarse-grained type – due to higher heat transfer caused by infrared

radiation – may be expected. However the difference of those thermal conductivities (calculated with the gray

Rosseland approximation described in [13]) is with max. 2.6 mW/(m·K) (for 86 °C) small compared to the effective

thermal conductivity and is thus within the measurement error of the GHPA.

An utility model of a vacuum insulated hot water store with 12 m³ water content, 70 mass-% coarse-grained

expanded perlite and 30 mass-% fumed silica as insulation material and a transparent thermal insulation (see Fig.

6b) was built up by the company Sirch Tankbau-Tankservice-Speicherbau GmbH and tested within the project

“StoEx” (see chapter “Acknowledgements”). A first measurement was done to investigate the mean temperature

drop of the storage medium in periods of no charging and discharging. During the 17 days of measurement the

180 Stephan Lang et al. / Energy Procedia 91 (2016) 172 – 181

vacuum pressure in the vacuum thermal insulation was approximately 1.1 mbar, the mean temperature of the storage

medium was 57 °C and the mean temperature difference between the storage medium and the ambient was 38 K.

Only a small overall mean temperature drop of the storage medium of approximately 0.25 K per day occurred.

Considering only the upper half of the prototype an even smaller mean temperature drop of approximately 0.1 K per

day occurred due to the fact that all thermal bridges of the TES (support construction, pipework and manway

opening) are at the bottom.

80

a b

effective thermal conductivity [mW/(māK)]

75

70

65 fine-grained expanded

perlite (183 kg/m³)

60

55

50 coarse-grained expanded

perlite (73 kg/m³)

45

40

35 fumed silica (43 kg/m³)

30

25

20

0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90

temperature [°C]

Fig. 6. (a) Effective thermal conductivity as a function of the mean temperature, measured in the GHPA at atmospheric pressure and a

temperature difference of 10 K between hot plate and cooling plates. The bulk density of each insulation material can be found in the caption in

parentheses; (b) Utility model of a vacuum insulated thermal energy store for outdoor installation with transparent thermal insulation.

The effective thermal conductivities of four different vacuum insulation materials at 5 to 6 different vacuum

pressures were investigated in this paper. Measurements were carried out in two different test rigs. The guarded

cylinder apparatus could produce more reliable data for pressures lower than ambient. The guarded hot plate

apparatus was used to produce reliable data at ambient pressure and mean temperatures between 10 and 86 °C.

Fumed silica has the lowest effective thermal conductivity at ambient pressure and small-grained expanded perlite at

low vacuum pressures of 0.1 mbar and beneath. The most interesting vacuum pressures for large thermal energy

stores in solar thermal applications are 1 mbar and higher as experiences with an utility model of a TES shows, that

lower vacuum pressures are very hard to achieve at high temperatures. At vacuum pressures between 1 and 10 mbar

a mixture of 70 mass-% of coarse-grained expanded perlite and 30 mass-% of fumed silica shows the best results.

This mixture was also applied to the utility model TES whereby excellent results of temperature drop measurements

could be achieved. As fumed silica is considerably higher priced than expanded perlites, mixtures with smaller

shares of fumed silica or with the lower priced precipitated silica will be investigated during the further procedure.

Furthermore, as the infrared extinction of silica is rather poor, silica will be mixed with infrared opacifiers. Some

measurement values – especially at low vacuum pressures – are higher than expected by literature values or

theoretical considerations. Thus both test rigs will be optimized and further effort will be done to investigate the

measurement errors.

Stephan Lang et al. / Energy Procedia 91 (2016) 172 – 181 181

Acknowledgements

The activities described in this paper are part of the project “StoEx” (Development of a large-volume, low-cost

hot water store with high-efficient thermal insulation for outdoor installation) supported by the German Federal

Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) based on a decision of the German Bundestag by Projektträger

Jülich (PTJ) under grant number 0325992B. The authors gratefully acknowledge this support and carry the full

responsibility for the content of this paper.

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