Multiscale computational modeling of a radiantly driven solar thermal collector
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The objectives of the master's thesis are to present, discuss and apply sequential multiscale modeling that combines analytical, numerical (finite element-based) and computational fluid dynamic (CFD) analysis to assist in the development of a radiantly driven macroscale solar thermal collector for energy harvesting. The solar thermal collector is a novel green energy system that converts solar energy to heat and utilizes dry air as a working heat transfer fluid (HTF). This energy system has important advantages over competitive technologies: it is self-contained (no energy sources are needed), there are no moving parts, no oil or supplementary fluids are needed and it is environmentally friendly since it is powered by solar radiation. This work focuses on the development of multi-physics and multiscale models for predicting the performance of the solar thermal collector. Model construction and validation is organized around three distinct and complementary levels. The first level involves an analytical analysis of the thermal transpiration phenomenon and models for predicting the associated mass flow pumping that occurs in an aerogel membrane in the presence of a large thermal gradient. Within the aerogel, a combination of convection, conduction and radiation occurs simultaneously in a domain where the pore size is comparable to the mean free path of the gas molecules. CFD modeling of thermal transpiration is not possible because all the available commercial CFD codes solve the Navier Stokes equations only for continuum flow, which is based on the assumption that the net molecular mass diffusion is zero. However, thermal transpiration occurs in a flow regime where a non-zero net molecular mass diffusion exists. Thus these effects are modeled by using Sharipov's  analytical expression for gas flow characterized by high Knudsen number. The second level uses a detailed CFD model solving Navier Stokes equations for momentum, heat and mass transfer in the various components of the device. We have used state-of-the-art computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software, Flow3D (www.flow3d.com) to model the effects of multiple coupled physical processes including buoyancy driven flow from local temperature differences within the plenums, fluid-solid momentum and heat transfer, and coupled radiation exchange between the aerogel, top glazing and environment. In addition, the CFD models include both convection and radiation exchange between the top glazing and the environment. Transient and steady-state thermal models have been constructed using COMSOL Multiphysics. The third level consists of a lumped-element system model, which enables rapid parametric analysis and helps to develop an understanding of the system behavior; the mathematical models developed and multiple CFD simulations studies focus on simultaneous solution of heat, momentum, mass and gas volume fraction balances and succeed in accurate state variable distributions confirmed by experimental measurements.