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The regeneration of silica gel desiccant by air from a solar heater with a compound parabolic concentrator
Surajitr Pramuanga,b, R.H.B. Exella
a The Joint Graduate School of Energy and Environment, King Mongkuts University of Technology Thonburi, Bangkok 10140, Thailand b Faculty of Science and Technology, Loei Rajabhat University, Loei 42000, Thailand

Abstract The regeneration of silica gel desiccant by a solar air heater for use in an air-conditioning system has been investigated. The hot air is produced by a compound parabolic concentrator collector (CPC), which has aperture and receiver areas 1.44 and 0.48 m2, respectively. The regeneration temperature can be started at 40 oC. The regeneration rate and the regeneration efciency were greatly affected by the solar radiation, but depended only slightly on the different initial moisture contents of silica gel and the number of silica gel beds. The regeneration of silica gel provided by the CPC collector is suitable for a tropical climate where the diffuse solar radiation is high all the year round.

Keywords: Silica gel; Desiccant; Regeneration; Solar air heater; CPC collector

1. Introduction An important part of air conditioning in tropical climates is air dehumidication. One method of doing this by solar energy is to use silica gel as a desiccant regenerated by solar heated air. Since relatively high air temperatures are needed for this purpose, and a large part of the solar radiation in tropical climates is diffuse, solar heaters with non-focusing concentrators are expected to be suitable. This paper reports the results of some

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Nomenclature A Aa CR cw d G I Ib Id rb Rc Rh v Vs W w1 w2 Wsi b d f Zre o cross section area, m2 aperture area, m2 concentration ratio the specic heat capacity of the air, J/kg K dry basis of silica gel, kg air ow rate, kg/h solar radiation falling to the collector, W/m2 direct solar radiation, W/m2 diffuse solar radiation, W/m2 tilt factor the regeneration rate, kg/h the relative humidity of the air, % air speed in the duct, m/s bulk volume of silica gel, m3 silica gel moisture ratio of silica gel, kg H2O/kg the inlet absolute humidity of the air, kg H2O/kg the outlet absolute humidity of the air, kg H2O/kg the silica gel weight at any time, kg the tilt angle of the collector the declination of the sun the latitude of the observer the regeneration efciency the hour angle of the sun

experiments on the regeneration of silica gel by a solar air heater with a compound parabolic concentrator (CPC) at Bangkok, Thailand. The regeneration of silica gel by an integrated desiccant/collector (IDC) has been studied by Saito [1] and also by Techajunta et al. [2]. These regeneration experiments were carried out indoors with articial solar radiation simulators. In the latter study, the results with various simulated insolation values and air ow rates showed that it should be possible to regenerate silica gel in tropical humid climates by solar-heated air. This was conrmed by Techajunta in further experiments [3]. Singh and Singh [4] investigated the regeneration of silica gel in a multi-shelf regenerator (24 shelves) with air temperatures 4272 1C and air velocities 0.1750.55 m/s. They found the values of the regeneration air temperature and bed air velocity for minimum energy input to be 52 1C and 0.175 m/s irrespective of the number of shelves. San and Jiang [5] also tested the regeneration of a silica gel packed bed. The optimum operating time, after which the maximum amount of moisture had been removed, was determined at three regeneration temperatures, namely 65, 75 and 85 1C. The higher the regeneration temperature, the shorter was the optimum operating time, but the variation of the optimum time was only 2%. In another study by San et al. [6] mathematical simulations of the heat and mass transfer in a silica gel packed bed were compared with experimental measurements in order to study the validity of solid-side mass diffusivities in water vapor

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adsorbed by silica gel. The passive regeneration of silica gel by solar energy (i.e. with natural convection) was found by Chindaruksa [7] to be 0.040.06 kg/h under the air ow rate 0.02 kg/s. 2. Thermal properties of silica gel as a desiccant Silica gels are solid structures formed by condensing soluble silicates from solutions of water or other solvents such as sulfuric acid. The blue/pink silica gel was used, its color changing from dark blue when dry to pink when saturated with moisture. Cobalt chloride is the colored indicator. Silica gel is a good adsorbent at relative humidities between 50% and 80% so it is suitable as a solid desiccant for air conditioning. The adsorption isotherm of water vapor on silica gel is shown in Fig. 1. The equilibrium moisture content in silica gel depends on the relative humidity of the surrounding moist air. The regeneration rate Rc of a quantity of silica gel is the mass of adsorbed water lost from the silica gel per unit time, and can be determined by the mass balance equation for water in the silica gel as follows: Rc rs V s dW =dt, (1)

where rs and Vs are the bulk density and bulk volume of the dry silica gel layer, and dW/dt is the rate of change of the moisture content (dry basis) of the silica gel obtained by weighing a sample periodically over time. The silica gel size 25 mm has bulk density 670 kg/m3. Measurements of the ow rate G of the process air and the absolute humidity of the inlet and outlet air, w1 and w2, also give the instantaneous regeneration rate: Rc Gw2 w1 . (2)

The regeneration efciency Zre is dened as the heat QD used to remove water from the silica gel compared with the radiation on the CPC collector. It is given

Fig. 1. The moisture equilibrium curve for the silica gel used in the experiments [7].

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by the equation Zre QD =IAa , where I is the solar irradiance falling on the collector, and Aa is the aperture area. The heat QD is determined by QD Rc cw DT hs , (4) where cw is the specic heat of moist air, DT is the temperature change of the air passing through the silica gel beds, and hs is the isothermal differential heat of sorption of water on silica gel. The latter quantity is given by hs 1079W 2745 J=kg; (5) where W is the silica gel moisture ratio assuming equilibrium with the relative humidity Rh % of the outlet air from the silica gel bed as follows: [7] W 0:119 104 Rh2 44:275 104 Rh. The solar radiation falling on the collector I, can be calculated by the equation I I b rb I d =CR, (7) where Ib, and Id are the direct and the diffuse solar irradiance, CR is the concentration ratio, and the tilt factor rb is the ratio of the beam radiation falling on the tilted surface to that falling on a horizontal surface. It depends on the position of the sun and is given for a collector facing south by rb cosf b cos d cos o sinf b sin d , cos f cos d cos o sin f sin d (8) (6) (3)

where f is the latitude of the observer, d is the declination of the sun, o is the hour angle of the sun, and b is the tilt angle of the collector. 3. The experimental setup The hot air is produced by the solar air heater with a compound parabolic concentrator collector. The collector has total aperture area 1.44 m2 and a at receiver area of 0.48 m2 making a concentration ratio CR 3.0. Each collector has overall dimensions 0.6 m height, 0.6 m width, and 1.2 m length. The receiving surface, which is painted non-selective matt black, forms the upper side of a rectangular airow duct of depth 0.03 m made of aluminum sheet 0.2 mm thick. The bottom of the duct is insulated with ber glass 50 mm thick. The optical efciency and heat loss of the collector are 0.68 and 8.51 W/m2 K. As shown in Fig. 2, the process air entering the solar air heater (point 1) is near ambient temperature and has a high relative humidity. After passing through the collector the process air has a higher temperature, and the same humidity ratio but a low relative humidity. The hot air at point 2 passing upwards through the silica gel beds removes the water content of the silica gel grains due to its low relative humidity. At point 3 the outlet air has a higher humidity ratio and a lower temperature than the air at point 2 due to the desorption of water from the silica gel. The silica gel container has horizontal cross section 0.5 m 0.5 m and height 0.6 m. Each silica gel bed has horizontal dimensions 0.5 m 0.5 m and depth 2.5 cm; one or two beds can be placed on the shelves in the container.

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Fig. 2. (a) Diagram of the system showing points 1, 2 and 3 where the process air was measured. (b) Psychrometric chart showing the properties of the process air at these three points in one of the experiments.

Fig. 3. The silica gel container and the CPC collector with the at plate receiver used for heating air.

The air speed v is measured by a hot wire anemometer as shown in Fig. 2. The air blower is controlled to maintain a constant ow through the system. The air ow rate G is calculated from the equation G rvA, where r is the air density, A is the cross section area of the air duct. Photographs of the equipment are shown in Fig. 3.

4. The measurements The air temperatures at points 1, 2 and 3, and ambient and wet bulb temperatures were measured with type-K thermocouples. Diffuse and total solar radiation were measured by two pyranometers, one with and one without a shade ring. All sensors were connected to a Cambell CR-10X data logger and the measurements were recorded every 5 min. The

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relative humidity and the moisture ratio of the processed air were calculated from the drybulb and wet-bulb temperatures using a psychrometrics program. Commercial grade silica gel was used and was dried at 105 1C for 72 h to nd the dry basis mass of silica gel. The total amount of silica gel used in the experiments was 8.50 kg. Ambient air was blown through the silica gel bed at night for 23 h to charge the silica gel with moisture. The moist silica gel was weighed at the beginning, every hour, and at the end of each experiment. The regeneration experiments were performed the next day from 09:00 to 16:00. The percentage moisture content M of the silica gel is calculated by the formula M W si d=d 100, (9) where Wsi is the total weight of the moist silica gel at any time and d is the weight of the dry silica gel. 5. The results The regeneration rates of silica gel were determined both from Eq. (1) and from Eq. (2). In Eq. (1) dW/dt is the slope of the graph of the moisture content of silica gel plotted as a function of the time. The results are shown in Table 1. The regeneration rates determined from measurements of the properties of the process air passing through the silica gel beds with the help of Eq. (2) are shown for some of the experiments in Figs. 49. The inlet and outlet temperatures of the air passing through the solar collector (points 1 and 2, Fig. 2), and the solar radiation on the collector, are also shown for some of the experiments in Figs. 49. The ambient temperatures, i.e. the inlet temperatures, were normally about 30 1C. The outlet temperatures for the solar collector were normally at least 20 1C higher; the highest temperature reached was 80 oC, but in cloudy weather a heating of only 10 1C was obtained. The regeneration rates in kilograms per hour for the 8.50 kg of silica gel during the middle part of the day were more strongly dependent on the air ow rate than on the solar
Table 1 The regeneration rates of silica gel for various air ow rates and numbers of silica gel beds in experiments on ten days Flow rate (kg/s) Number of beds Moisture content of silica gel (%) Initial 0.003 0.003 0.004 0.004 0.007 0.005 0.009 0.009 0.026 0.022 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 20.47 23.65, 26.15 20.00 12.08, 21.29 24.53 27.11, 27.11 14.61 8.27, 8.27 24.33 11.61, 8.8 Final 6.11 10.81, 18.66 5.59 4.90, 10.78 7.07 17.02, 23.32 6.45 4.28, 5.76 5.14 4.99, 2.82 0.27 0.17 0.29 0.20 0.51 0.17 0.41 0.12 0.31 0.15 539.08 597.71 455.62 608.50 611.09 456.80 319.99 510.60 497.72 513.46 Rc rsVsdW/dt (kg/h) Average solar radiation (W/m2)

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Fig. 4. Temperatures at the inlet and outlet of the solar collector, and solar radiation on the collector; regeneration rate and regeneration efciency calculated from the ow rate 0.03 kg/s and change in relative humidity of the process air. 28 February 2002, partly cloudy day, one silica gel bed.

Fig. 5. Temperatures at the inlet and outlet of the solar collector, and solar radiation on the collector; regeneration rate and regeneration efciency calculated from the ow rate 0.02 kg/s and change in relative humidity of the process air. 26 February 2002, cloudy day, two silica gel beds.

Fig. 6. Temperatures at the inlet and outlet of the solar collector, and solar radiation on the collector; regeneration rate and regeneration efciency calculated from the ow rate 0.009 kg/s and change in relative humidity of the process air. 21 February 2002, partly cloudy day, two silica gel beds.

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Fig. 7. Temperatures at the inlet and outlet of the solar collector, and solar radiation on the collector; regeneration rate and regeneration efciency calculated from the ow rate 0.005 kg/s and change in relative humidity of the process air. 18 February 2002, cloudy day, two silica gel beds.

Fig. 8. Temperatures at the inlet and outlet of the solar collector, and solar radiation on the collector; regeneration rate and regeneration efciency calculated from the ow rate 0.004 kg/s and change in relative humidity of the process air. 8 February 2002, clear day, one silica gel bed.

Fig. 9. Temperatures at the inlet and outlet of the solar collector, and solar radiation on the collector; regeneration rate and regeneration efciency calculated from the ow rate 0.003 kg/s and change in relative humidity of the process air. 24 February 2002, partly cloudy day, two silica gel beds.

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radiation, having values of about 0.6 kg/h at the maximum air ow rate of 0.03 kg/s and solar radiation 700 W/m2. In this case the regeneration efciency (heat of desorption of water divided by solar radiation on the collector) was 0.5. As the ow rate is reduced, this efciency is reduced by the heat losses at the higher temperatures, and by lower mass transfer rates in the beds at the lower air ow rates, although one would expect the higher process air temperatures to improve the performance of the system. 6. Discussion and conclusion At high air ow rate (0.03 kg/s) the silica gel can be regenerated at temperature 40 1C and at higher temperatures up to 50 1C with low air ow rates (0.003 kg/s). However, if the solar radiation drops below 300 W/m2, and a high ow rate is being used, then the regeneration temperature falls below 40 1C and silica gel can adsorb moisture from the air instead of losing moisture. The initial moisture content of the silica gel had a range of different values in the various experiments, but the nal values after regeneration were within a narrow range, suggesting that near-equilibrium nal moisture contents were reached in each case. This indicates that the CPC air heater used could produce enough hot air to regenerate the silica gel completely even with low intensity solar radiation. The regeneration rates found by weighing the silica gel agreed with the regeneration rates found by measuring the properties of the process air. It was found that during the period 09:0016:00 the average regeneration rate under the various weather conditions was 0.19 kg/h per square meter of aperture area. The highest regeneration rate found was 0.51 kg/h in one silica gel bed with air ow rate 0.007 kg/s. Based on a study by Chang et al. [8], which found that silica gel could be regenerated at temperatures in the range 6090 1C within 2 hours, it is concluded that the CPC collector producing temperatures up to 80 1C could be used to regenerate silica gel in 2 h around solar noon. Summarizing, it can be said that a truncated CPC air heater with concentration ratio 3 can give outlet air temperatures 10 1C above ambient temperature on a cloudy day, and 50 1C above ambient on sunny days. This air can be used to regenerate silica gel desiccant for air conditioning in tropical humid climates. Acknowledgement One of the authors (SP) would like to thank the Joint Graduate School of Energy and Environment (JGSEE), King Mongkuts University of Technology Thonburi, for nancial support. References
[1] Saito Y. Regeneration of adsorbent in the integrate desiccant/ collector. J Sol Eng 1993;115:16975. [2] Techajunta S, Chirarattananon S, Exell RHB. Experiments in a solar simulator on solid desiccant regeneration and air dehumidication for air conditioning in a tropical humid climate. Renew Energy 1999;17:54968. [3] Techajunta S. A study of solar regenerated solid desiccant for air conditioning in a tropical humid climate, Dissertation No. ET-99-2, Asian Institute of Technology, Pathumthanee, Thailand, 1999. [4] Singh S, Singh PP. Regeneration of silica gel in multi-shelf regenerator. Renew Energy 1998;13(1):10519.

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[5] San JY, Jiang GD. Modeling and testing of a silica gel packed-bed system. Int J Heat Mass Transf 1994;37(8):11739. [6] San JY, Ni CC, Hsu HS. Validity of solid-side mass diffusivity in simulation of water vapor adsorbed by silica gel in packed beds. Int J Thermal Sci 2002;41:419. [7] Chindaruksa S. Active adsorptionpassive regeneration of silica gel beds for solar dryer. Doctoral of Science Thesis, Energy Technology, School of Energy and Materials, King Mongkuts University of Technology Thonburi, Bangkok, 2000. [8] Chang KSC, Wang HC, Chung TW. Effect of regeneration conditions on the adsorption dehumidication process in packed silica gel beds. Appl Thermal Eng 2004;24:73542.