Controllable Solar Flux Heating for Freeze Recovery in Molten Salt Parabolic Trough Collectors: Paper No. JERT-19-1776

Luca Imponenti, Ryan Shininger, Keith Gawlik, Hank Price, Guangdong Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus Citations


In molten-salt parabolic trough plants, the melting process is particularly important for freeze recovery of salt that is solidified in a collector loop, should such an event occur. Currently impedance heating is expected for freeze recovery of the collector loops, but this method can be expensive. A lower-cost alternative is proposed to use controllable concentrated solar flux directly from the parabolic mirrors to thaw salt that is frozen in the collector. A computational fluid dynamics model was developed to explore the solidification and melting processes of molten salt in a parabolic trough receiver and to assess the viability of this concept. Results indicate that concentrated solar heating has the potential to melt frozen salt in 5.6 h, compared to that in 8.8 h for a 300 W m-1 impedance heating system. At the same time, controllable solar flux heating introduces nonuniform solar fluxes on the receiver surface, which can induce significant thermal stress on the receiver tube. A preliminary stress analysis indicates that the temperature difference across the receiver tube should be maintained below about 70 °C for heating up to 300 °C at internal pressures =10 bar. At these conditions, freeze recovery using solar flux heating will not significantly affect receiver lifetime. These results suggest that controllable solar flux heating could effectively supplement or replace impedance heating in the freeze recovery system. Incorporating this methodology in future parabolic trough concentrating solar power plants is an opportunity for capital and operational cost-savings.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Energy Resources Technology, Transactions of the ASME
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5500-74094


  • freeze protection and recovery
  • molten salt
  • parabolic trough
  • solar flux heating


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