School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics
Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment
The global market trend for Vacuum Insulation Panels (VIPs) is projecting a significant increase in their uptake in the construction sector. This is mainly due to the uniquely high-performance properties of the ultra-thin insulation materials. This uptake, however, can potentially be hindered by the VIPs’ higher cost and environmental impacts when compared with conventional insulation materials. This paper, for the first time, presents a detailed evaluation of the environmental impact of the most common type of VIPs currently used in different applications with a focus on alternating the core material as the main contributing component to their footprint. Pyrogenic silica, glass fibre, expanded polystyrene, aerogel and a silica/sawdust hybrid core were analysed from cradle to gate. The study, on a comparative basis, demonstrates the sensitivity of the various environmental impact categories to the internal vacuum pressure and the subsequent thermal conductivity values. The results show a lower environmental impact for glass fibre and low density expanded polystyrene compared to the other alternatives. Pyrogenic silica, the most common core material, had the highest environmental impact out of the core materials considered. The higher environmental impacts of pyrogenic silica suggest that measures such as the recycling of the core material alongside the deployment of eco-friendlier manufacturing techniques should be considered if the material is to compete environmentally with the other alternative materials.
A primary drawback of solar thermal technologies, especially in a domestic setting, is that collection of thermal energy occurs when solar irradiance is abundant and there is generally little requirement for heating. Thermochemical Energy Storage (TCES) offers a means of storing thermal energy interseasonally with little heat loss. A combination of a Solar Thermal Collector (STC) and TCES system will allow a variety of different heating applications, such as domestic space and hot water heating as well as low temperature industrial process heat applications to be met in a low carbon way. This paper describes and assesses the feasibility of two novel technologies currently under development at Loughborough University; i) an evacuated flat plate STC and ii) composite TCES materials, coupled together into a system designed to store and supply thermal energy on demand throughout the year. Experimental results of composite TCES materials along with predicted performance of STC's are used within a developed model to assess key metrics of conceptual TCES + STC systems feasibility, including; charging time, payback time, cost/kWh, energy savings and CO2 savings. This paper demonstrates the economic, energy and carbon savings potential of conceptual TCES + STC systems suitable for domestic use.
Heat losses from a flat panel solar collector can be significantly reduced by lowering the internal pressure to <0.5 Pa. Compared with conventional collectors, the resulting increase in efficiency is predicted to give a significant gain in annual heat output in the context of a temperate climate with low median irradiance. Two experimental collectors were built and tested to investigate theoretical aspects of evacuated flat plates and develop appropriate technological solutions. One had a metal tray to the rear, the other used two sheets of glass. An array of pillars supports the glass against atmospheric pressure. The experimental procedure was designed to minimise measurement uncertainty. Testing under a solar simulator, with and without a vacuum, showed a sudden drop in heat loss as the pressure was reduced below 0.5 Pa. When evacuated the heat loss coefficient fell from 7.43 to 3.65 W/m2 K and the efficiency at a nominal test condition of ΔT = 60 °C, G = 1000 W/m2 increased from 36% to 56%. Heat losses from absorber to glass were within 9% of the predicted level. This demonstrates that the heat loss mechanism is well understood.
Non-concentrating solar thermal collectors are generally available in two forms, flat plate or evacuated tube. Recently a third configuration, the evacuated flat plate, has attracted interest due to enhanced performance and aesthetic characteristics. By isolating a solar absorber in a vacuum space (<1 Pa) heat loss from the absorber can be minimized resulting in improved efficiency. In addition the improved thermal insulation performance of evacuated panels over conventional glazing systems makes them attractive solutions for integration into energy efficient building facades. This two part paper describes the design, construction techniques and thermal performance of two vacuum enclosures, fabricated at Ulster University, as prototype components for evacuated flat solar collectors. The first enclosure consists of two glass panes sealed to an edge spacer and separated by an array of support pillars on a regular square grid to form a narrow evacuated space. The second enclosure incorporates an uncooled copper sheet to represent a solar thermal absorber. The enclosures were tested at three conditions i.e. with an internal pressure of high vacuum (0.0021 Pa), low vacuum (8.4 Pa) and no vacuum (atmospheric pressure). Part 1 of this paper describes the fabrication process for the vacuum enclosures and the measurement of their thermal insulation properties using a hot box calorimeter. The theory of heat transfer through an enclosure with support pillars is discussed; experimental results are compared with mathematical models predictions. A fabrication methodology has been successfully established and a U-value of 1.35 W/m2K for an enclosure with an internal pressure of 0.0021 Pa has been demonstrated. The experimental results are in good agreement with the predictions. Part 2 of this paper describes solar simulator testing of the enclosure containing a copper plate. The highest stagnation temperature (121.8°C) was reached under steady-state conditions in the high vacuum test and was in good agreement with predictions. The transient plate and glass surface temperatures were measured and found to be consistent with the predicted curves.
Creating a vacuum (<1Pa) around a solar absorber in a flat plate solar thermal collector can increase efficiency by minimising gaseous conduction and convection between the absorber plate and the glass cover. High performance and architecturally attractive flat plate solar thermal collectors are appealing to building owners and designers for supplying clean and renewable energy cost effectively produced via the façade of the building. This two part paper describes the construction techniques and thermal performance of two vacuum enclosures, fabricated at Ulster University, as prototype components for evacuated flat plate solar collectors. The enclosures were tested at three conditions: 0.0033 Pa, 17 Pa and atmospheric pressure. The first enclosure consisted of two glass panes, sealed to an edge spacer and separated by an array of support pillars on a regular square grid to form a narrow evacuated space. The second enclosure, incorporated an uncooled copper plate to represent a solar thermal absorber. Part 1 of this paper has described the fabrication techniques and compared results from hot-box calorimeter and IR thermography testing of the first enclosure with numerical and analytical predictions. Part 2 describes solar simulator testing of the second enclosure which incorporated an uncooled copper plate. Testing under a solar simulator showed a higher stagnation temperature in the high vacuum test (0.0033 Pa) in comparison with the low vacuum (17 Pa) and atmospheric pressure tests. Curve fitting of a heat transfer model to the transient response data demonstrated that radiation and gas conduction were close to predictions. Simulated results were in close agreement with both the transient response and the steady-state asymptotic plate temperatures.