Considerations for the Design of Solar-Thermal Chemical Processes

Janna Martinek, Melinda Channel, Allan Lewandowski, Alan W. Weimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus Citations


A methodology is presented for the design of solar thermal chemical processes. The solar receiver efficiency for the high temperature step, defined herein as the ratio of the enthalpy change resulting from the process occurring in the receiver to the solar energy input, is limited by the solar energy absorption efficiency. When using this definition of receiver efficiency, both the optimal reactor temperature for a given solar concentration ratio and the solar concentration required to achieve a given temperature and efficiency shift to lower values than those dictated by the Carnot limitation on the system efficiency for the conversion of heat to work. Process and solar field design considerations were investigated for ZnO and NiFe2O4 "ferrite" spinel water splitting cycles with concentration ratios of roughly 2000, 4000, and 8000 suns to assess the implications of using reduced solar concentration. Solar field design and determination of field efficiency were accomplished using ray trace modeling of the optical components. Annual solar efficiency increased while heliostat area decreased with increasing concentration due to shading and blocking effects. The heliostat fields designed using system efficiency for the conversion of heat to work were found to be overdesigned by up to 21% compared with those designed using the receiver efficiency alone. Overall efficiencies of 13-20% were determined for a "ferrite" based water splitting process with thermal reduction conversions in the range of 35-100%.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)310131-310136
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Solar Energy Engineering, Transactions of the ASME
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2010
Externally publishedYes

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-590-49281


  • concentrated solar
  • dolar-thermal chemical process
  • solar heat


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