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Construction and testing of a dish/Stirling

solar energy unit


H. Karabulut*
1
, H. S. Yucesu
1
, C. Cinar
1
and Fatih Aksoy
2
This study is concerned with the construction of a simple solar energy conversion system
consisting of a parabolic dish concentrator and a Stirling engine. For this purpose, a parabolic
dish concentrator consisting of planar mirror segments was built and coupled with a Stirling
engine recently developed by the authors for solar energy conversion and domestic
cogeneration. By mounting the engine to the bottom of the dish concentrator, the solar rays
were directly reflected onto the hot end of the displacer cylinder. For the design of an appropriate
parabolic dish concentrator reflecting solar rays onto the hot zone of a displacer cylinder and
satisfying their uniform distribution, an equation was derived. The energy conversion unit
constructed was tested under 820 W m
22
solar radiation. The engine started to run at 93uC hot
end temperature. At steady running conditions, the hot end temperature of the displacer cylinder
became stable at y156uC. The variation of shaft power with engine speed and charge pressure
was evaluated. The engine produced a maximum shaft power of 23?59 W at 344 rev min
21
engine speed and 2 bar helium charge pressure.
Keywords: Solar energy, Parabolic dish, Stirling engine
List of symbols
f Focal length of standard parabola (m)
h
o
Distance between dish bottom and illumi-
nated zone of cylinder (m)
LPG Liquefied petroleum gas
LTD Low temperature differential
Q
f
Heat transferred to the working fluid of the
engine (J)
Q
s
Radiation coming from dish (J)
Q
w
Heat transferred to the rest of the displacer
cylinder by conduction (J)
Q

Energy lost to surrounding medium (J)


R Aperture diameter (m)
T
H
Hot end temperature of displacer cylinder
(K)
T
L
Cold end temperature of displacer cylinder
(K)
x Horizontal element of coordinate system (m)
z Vertical element of coordinate system (m)
W
b
Shaft work per cycle (J)
W
i
Inner work per cycle (J)
g
b
Brake thermal efficiency W
b
/Q
f
g
c
Carnot efficiency (T
H
2T
L
)/T
H
g
i
Inner thermal efficiency W
i
/Q
f
Introduction
The dish/engine technology is one of the oldest solar
energy conversion technologies, dating back to the 1800s
when a number of companies demonstrated solar
powered systems based on Rankine steam engine,
Ericsson and Stirling engines.
1,2
The dish/Stirling systems consist principally of a
parabolic dish concentrator, a receiver and a Stirling
engine coupled with an electrical generator. The para-
bolic dish concentrator reects the sun radiation to the
receiver. The receiver intercepts the concentrated radia-
tion and converts to heat in its cavity. The heat
generated in the cavity is transferred to the engine either
directly or indirectly via a phase changing uid.
3,4
The parabolic dish concentrators were built by means
of alignment of planar or spherical mirror segments
onto a parabolic dish dened by z5x
2
/4f.
5,6
For the
alignment of segments, several methods were devised
before 1992 and reviewed by Diver.
7
The optical
efciency of parabolic dish concentrators built in this
manner was described as the product of mirror
reectivity, mirror cleanliness and receiver interception,
and values up to 85% were reported.
8,9
Stirling engines
used in dish/Stirling systems are high temperature
(above 700uC) and high pressure engines (up to
200 bar) using hydrogen or helium as working uid.
After 1970, in order to develop the dish/Stirling
technology, lots of projects were conducted by commer-
cial institutions and academic researchers. In 1978,
Gupta et al. developed 1 and 1?9 kW solar powered
reciprocating engines for rural applications.
10
The
engines provided 5?5 and 5?7% thermal efciencies and
1
Department of Mechanical Technology, Faculty of Technical Education,
Gazi University, Teknikokullar, Ankara 06500, Turkey
2
Department of Mechanical Technology, Faculty of Technical Education,
Afyon Kocatepe University, Afyon 03100, Turkey
*Corresponding author, email halitk@gazi.edu.tr
228
2009 Energy Institute
Published by Maney on behalf of the Institute
Received 17 October 2008; accepted 5 February 2009
DOI 10.1179/014426009X12448189963513 Journal of the Energy Institute 2009 VOL 82 NO 4
2% overall efciency. In 1980, Fujita et al. conducted an
experimental study to compare performances of three
different dish/engine power systems.
4
One of these
engines used was a Stirling engine while the others were
gas turbines. One of these gas turbines was working with
the Brayton cycle and the other was working with the
Brayton/Rankine combined cycle. The Stirling engine
used had a kinematic design developed by United
Stirling of Sweden. The tests indicated that Stirling
engine achieved higher efciencies at lower temperatures
(below 950uC); however, at higher temperatures, the
Brayton/Rankine cycle gas turbines achieved higher
efciency than the Stirling engine.
The US Department of Energy made an experimental
evaluation of the dish/Stirling systems built with using a
kinematic engine of United Stirling of Sweden. The
experimental data were obtained in the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory of California Institute of Technology and
evaluated by Selcuk in 1985.
11
Some overall efciencies
of up to 35%, from sun light to electricity, were reported.
Cummins Power Generation Inc. and Sandia
National Laboratory conducted a dish/Stirling develop-
ment project for a 3K year period starting from
September 1991. The programme was sponsored by
the US Department of Energy. In the dish/Stirling
system developed, a free piston Stirling engine, a liquid
metal heat pipe receiver and stretched membrane
concentrators were used. The maximum electricity
power and overall efciency, from sun light to electri-
city, were 7?5 kW and 28% respectively.
12
In a solar energy project started by Shaltens et al. in
1992, sponsored by the US Department of Energy and
organised by NASA Lewis Research Center, two
different free piston Stirling engines, manufactured by
Cummins Motor Company and Stirling Technology
Company, were tested.
13
As the experimental facility, a
sodium heat pipe receiver was used. The solar energy
systems built provided overall efciencies reaching to 32
and 30?7% respectively.
In the EnviroDish project, a 10 kW dish/Stirling
system was developed by the Deutsches Zentrum fu r
Luft und Raumfahrt and Schlaich Bergermann und
Partner. In this system, an alpha type kinematic engine
(SOLO V161), externally heated by concentrated solar
radiation, was used. The system provided 11?1 kW
electricity power and 21?6% net solar to electricity
efciency.
14,15
This study is concerned with the design and construc-
tion of a parabolic dish concentrator and its integration
with an engine manufactured by the authors recently for
solar energy and domestic cogeneration studies.
Technical properties and performance characteristics
of this engine, obtained with air testing using a LPG
ame as heat source, were recently presented by the
authors.
16
The engine was mounted to the bottom of a
parabolic collector and the solar rays were directly
reected onto the hot end of the displacer cylinder. As
working uid, helium was used.
Properties of dish and engine
In the solar energy system to be constructed, the use of a
point focusing parabolic dish may cause some extreme
thermal stresses on the displacer cylinder and damage
the engine. A dish appropriate for this study should
reect solar rays onto a zone of the displacer cylinder.
The equation
dz
dx
~tg
p
4
z
1
2
arctg
z
x
{
h
0
x
{
l
R

describes an appropriate dish prole. Figure 1 illustrates
a dish prole designed with 1?7 m aperture diameter and
drawn at real scales. Solar rays are reected onto an
interval of z ranging from 25 to 35 cm. Figure 2
illustrates assembly of the engine and dish reector
established of planar mirror segments by means of
aligning them onto a dish made of breglass. A certain
degree of diversity was unavoidable between theoretical
design and practical construction.
The engine used is a kinematic engine developed for
solar energy and domestic cogeneration.
16
Figure 3
illustrates a photograph of the engine. Its external shape
was specically designed appropriate for coupling with a
parabolic dish. Figure 4 illustrates a power and torque
curve of the engine obtained at 4 bar helium charge
pressure and 300uC hot end temperature by heating the
engines hot end with LPG burner. The convective heat
transfer coefcient at inner surfaces of the engine was
predicted as 650 W m
22
K
21
for helium by comparing
the maximum shaft power (180 W) with theoretically
calculated power using the nodal analysis.
16,17
Using the
maximum shaft power and the heat input calculated
by nodal analysis, the ratio of brake thermal efciency
to Carnot efciency was determined as 60?3%. The
other properties of the engine are given by Karabulut
et al.
16
Experimental facilities and measurement
procedure
The torque of the engine was measured by exerting a
Prony type mobile dynamometer on the ywheel of the
engine. The speed of the engine was measured by a
digital tachometer, ENDA ETS1410, with 1 rev min
21
accuracy. Temperatures were measured with a non-
contact infrared thermometer, DT-8859. The charge
pressure was measured with a bourdon tube pressure
gauge with 0?1 bar accuracy and 010 bar measurement
range. The density of sun radiation was measured by a
pyranometer.
The working uid pressure was initially set to a
desired value and the engine was run. After a period of
1 Exact prole of dish
Karabulut et al. Construction and testing of a dish/Stirling solar energy unit
Journal of the Energy Institute 2009 VOL 82 NO 4 229
time, the hot end temperature of the engine reached to a
stable state. Then, by exerting different loads, the speed
was determined. When a new load was exerted, however,
the speed required a time period to settle. To ensure
reliability of the obtained data, stable speeds were
waited. After obtaining an adequate number of data
pairs, the operations were progressed to the subsequent
pressure stage.
Results and discussions
The energy conversion system constructed was tested
under 820 W m
22
sun radiations in mid of September.
The engine started to run at 93uC hot end temperature.
At steady working conditions, the temperature distribu-
tion of the displacer cylinder was measured and
illustrated in Fig. 5. The variations of shaft power and
torque with speed are illustrated in Figs. 6 and 7
respectively. The engine provided 23?59 W maximum 3 Photograph of test engine
4 Variation of power and torque with engine speed
2 Photograph of energy system
5 Temperature distribution on cylinder
Karabulut et al. Construction and testing of a dish/Stirling solar energy unit
230 Journal of the Energy Institute 2009 VOL 82 NO 4
shaft power at 2 bar helium charge pressure and
344 rev min
21
speed as seen in Fig. 6. This shaft power
corresponds to a 4?12 J shaft work W
b
per cycle. By
means of introducing the temperature distribution seen
in Fig. 5 into the nodal analysis program described by
Karabulut et al., the inner work generation W
i
per cycle
was predicted as 5?49 J for 650 W m
22
K
21
convective
heat transfer coefcient at the inner surface.
18
The
difference between the shaft work and inner work may
be attributed to the mechanical losses. The good
agreement between the shaft work and inner work also
conrms the validity of nodal analysis program and
thermophysical values used. A shaft power of 23?59 J is
much lower than in practical utility. In order to reach to
a conclusion of whether the system can be developed or
not, one should know where the energy reected by the
dish goes to. Its determination by measurement was not
easy. Therefore, semitheoretical approximations were
made. For this purpose, the energy balance of the
illuminated zone of the displacer cylinder was used as
Q
s
{Q
?
~Q
f
zQ
w
The quantities on the left side of this equation are
radiation coming from dish and energy lost to surround-
ing medium. The quantities on the right are the heat
transferred to the working uid of the engine and the
heat transferred to the rest of the displacer cylinder by
conduction.
Using the nodal analysis program, the heat trans-
ferred to the working uid through the surface inside the
illuminated zone Q
f
was calculated as 27?5 J per cycle.
The heat transferred by conduction to the remainder of
displacer cylinder Q
w
was determined using the Fourier
relation of conduction as 2?5 J per cycle. Substitution of
these values into the energy balance results in
Q
s
{Q
?
~30
Considering a 50% reection efciency (rate of radiation
reected to the engine/rate of radiation incoming to the
dish) for dish concentrator, Q
s
was estimated as 143 J
per cycle. By substituting this value into the last
equation, Q

was estimated as 113 J per cycle. As a


result, the brake thermal efciency g
b
and inner thermal
efciency g
i
of the engine were determined as 15 and
20% respectively, which can be regarded as pretty good.
Under the same temperature limits seen in Fig. 5
(T
H
5429 K, T
L
5300 K), the internal Carnot efciency
g
c
of the engine is 30%. The ratio of brake thermal
efciency to Carnot efciency was found to be 50%. As
mentioned above, the same ratio was 60?3%. This
indicates that 2 bar charge pressure is slightly lower
than the optimum charge pressure of working uid for
156uC hot end and 27uC cold end temperatures.
Examination of torque and power curves obtained for
1?2 and 2 bar charge pressures (Figs. 6 and 7) indicates
the same situation. Therefore, y5 W increase in shaft
power may be expected. The overall conversion ef-
ciency of the system (shaft work obtained/radiation
used) is y1?7%. Under similar testing conditions, the
four piston LTD engine constructed by Kongtragool
and Wongwises produced 6 W shaft power and 0?44%
brake thermal efciency, where the radiation was
supplied by a halogen lamp instead of using sun
radiation.
19
Q

calculated above is 79% of the sun radiation


reected to the displacer cylinder by dish concentrator.
A signicant part of Q

may be the energy lost to


surrounding medium by re-reection due to the low
absorption property of ASTM steel from which the
displacer cylinder was manufactured. By ceramic coat-
ing, its absorption property may be improved and re-
reection may be partially avoided. The convective heat
loss from the surface of the displacer cylinder may also
be minimised by means of using a glass cover. To avoid
re-reection of sun radiation focused onto the hot end of
the displacer cylinder and other losses with thermal
radiation and convection, the most efcient solution
seems to be focusing the radiation into a cavity attached
to the top of displacer cylinder. To reect the solar
radiation into a cavity grooved at the top of cylinder, a
double reection mechanism may be constructed alike
seen in Fig. 8. To increase reection efciency of the
dish, it may be manufactured as a single part from a
reective material or from smaller mirror segments as
made in the past.
7
Conclusion
A dish/Stirling solar energy conversion system was
constructed and tested under 820 W m
22
solar radia-
tions. The hot end temperature of the engine was
measured as 156uC. The engine provided a 23?59 W
shaft power with helium as working uid which can be
regarded as a pretty good performance with regard to
156uC hot end temperature, but lower than the expected.
Heat losses with thermal radiation and convection and
re-reection of some solar radiation restricted the hot
6 Variation of output power with engine speed
7 Variation of torque with engine speed
Karabulut et al. Construction and testing of a dish/Stirling solar energy unit
Journal of the Energy Institute 2009 VOL 82 NO 4 231
end temperature and consequently the power genera-
tion. The present performance of the system was found
to be too low when compared to dish/Stirling conversion
systems with the sodium heat pipe. However, it has
potential for development. Focusing the sun radiation
into a cavity attached to the top of displacer cylinder
may be the most efcient strategy for the development
process.
Acknowledgements
This study was supported by the Scientific and
Technological Research Council of Turkey
(TUBITAK) in frame of the project code of 105M256.
As researchers, the authors thank the TUBITAK.
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232 Journal of the Energy Institute 2009 VOL 82 NO 4