Space cooling energy demand is projected to increase due to climate changes. For example, the South African climate change model projected warming to reach around 3 to 4°C along the coast, and 6 to 7°C in the interior. Such temperature increases will significantly increase the energy demand by building cooling applications. Thus, there is an urgent need to improve the energy efficiency in buildings and to reduce the peak cooling loads.
Various studies for building free cooling using phase change materials have shown to reduce or avoid the need for mechanical space cooling. Very few of these studies covered Southern African climatic conditions and no research was found reporting a comparison of free cooling thermal performance of different PCM types for an individual climate scenario. The purpose of this study was to experimentally evaluate and compare the cooling performance of three PCM materials in plate-air heat exchanger modules subjected to Southern African climatic conditions and to use the data to deduce empirical correlations that can be used by thermal designers to determine the number of modules required to maintain an objective cooling load within the range of operating conditions.
In this experimental investigation the cooling (discharging) performance of plate encapsulated Phase Change Materials (PCMs) for passive cooling applications were evaluated as measured by its average effectiveness, cooling power, energy absorption and phase transformation duration. A test facility that mimics a PCM-air heat exchanger module installed in a ventilation duct was used to consider the impact of varying air flow rate and inlet air temperature. PCM plate encapsulations with a thickness of 10 mm orientated vertically and spaced at a pitch of 15 mm were investigated. The thermal storage characteristics of three commercial PCMs were considered. Two paraffin type PCMs with melting temperature ranges of 25 °C to 28 °C and 22 °C to 26 °C and one type salt hydrate with a phase change temperature range 24 °C to 25 °C were used in air flows ranging in temperature from 30 °C to 35 °C and duct air velocities ranging from 0.4 m/s to 0.9 m/s.
The results indicated that average effectiveness of the PCM modules decreased with increasing convective air mass flow rate. Increasing air mass flow rate (at constant inlet air temperature) or increasing the inlet air temperature (at constant air mass flow rate) increased the average cooling power. The phase transformation durations of the PCMs decreased as both the air flow rate and inlet air temperature increased. The salt hydrate (SP24E) module had the highest energy absorption capacity for all experimental conditions. The rate of energy absorption increased with inlet air temperature. From a design standpoint the desirable thermal performance of PCM is to have a high instantaneous heat absorption capacity and also extended over a longer period. Paraffinic PCMs met the first condition of high instantaneous heat absorption but did not meet the second condition of extended heat absorption duration. SP24E met the condition for extended heat absorption duration but had a lower instantaneous heat absorption capacity than the paraffin.
Empirically-based correlations for determining the number of modules to maintain an objective cooling load were developed using a multiple regression analysis technique. From this, air conditioning system designers can determine the number of modules (installed in parallel) required to maintain an objective cooling load within the range of operating conditions tested.