Are phase change materials going to be the next big thing in the future?
The lightweight building constructions being done today have one major drawback, which is the absence of thermal mass energy.
It means that such types of constructions can get extremely overheated in the summer seasons and cannot keep the place warmer in the winter seasons.
In such places, cooling and heating systems are often set up to maintain the temperature as per the comfort of the residents.
Setting up such a system may help temporarily, but if a permanent solution is sought, phase change materials (PCM) can be the possible technology. Thermal energy storage using PCMs can help with constant storage and release of energy while maintaining the required amount of heat in the buildings.
To get a better understanding, let’s talk in-depth about the phase change materials (PCMs) and their possible benefits.
What is meant by phase change materials?
Phase change materials refer to the type of substances that are used for absorbing and releasing heat during the process of freezing and melting.
They are known as “phase change” materials because of their capability of changing themselves from solid-state to liquid during the process of thermal cycling.\
Let’s understand PCMs with an example:
There is a commonly found fabric called cool touch fabric, mostly used for clothing and bedding purposes. When any person touches this fabric, the heat from the hand makes the PCM activate present in the materials, and one feels a cold sensation. This is how PCMs work and help in absorbing and releasing heat.
Types of Phase Change Materials
There are multiple categories of PCMs available in the market. The most used phase change materials for different applications such as technical requirements are organic PCMs and inorganic PCMs.
- Inorganic PCMs
Inorganic PCMs are mostly used in the early stage of the evolution of latent heat storage fabrics. Inorganic PCMs are also known as salt hydrates. The main benefits of using inorganic phase change material include low-cost, instant availability, and non-flammability.
However, there are a few drawbacks associated with inorganic PCM which have resulted in the breakdown of organic PCMs. Some of the drawbacks associated with inorganic PCMs include instability, a tendency to over-cool, and corrosiveness.
The increased storage density of inorganic PCM materials is hard to maintain, and it keeps decreasing with the cycling process. It is because most of the inorganic PCMs melt continuously due to the formation of the hydrated salt and make the whole procedure irreversible. Due to this, their storage efficiency keeps on continuously decreasing.
- Organic PCMs
Organic PCMs have several characteristics that make them more useful for heat storage in certain elements of the buildings. They are much more chemically durable than inorganic materials. They also melt congruently, but supercooling does not create any significant problem.
Moreover, they are regarded as more compatible and suitable for absorption in several materials of the building. However, the starting cost of getting the organic PCMs installed is much higher in comparison to inorganic PCMs.
Use of PCMs for Concentrating Solar Power (CSP)
Concentrating solar power (CSP) is yet another technology that uses PCMs’ abilities for thermal energy storage. Currently, more than a dozen power plants are operating in Spain and the U.S. through the power plants being connected with a CSP tower.
PCMs that have been installed in the CSP system include several other organic compounds such as molten salts (>300o C flame temperature), metallic alloys (>500o C), and sugar alcohols (< 200o C).
A standard PCM combined with a CSP system is heated and kept in the container during peak hours. When the stored heat is needed, the PCM is pumped inside the steam generator, which starts boiling the water, switches on the turbine, and makes electricity. The cooled PCM is pushed back inside the storehouse tank to be reused.
Industry Report on Phase Change Materials
PCMs have constantly been developing since 1970, mostly due to the technological advancements in this sector. The ecosystem of this market comprises PCM product manufacturers, end users, PCM manufacturers, and others. The market is still in the developing stage, with Europe dominating the market, followed by other regions such as North America.
As per the BIS Research reports, the phase change materials market value was at $1,520.3 million in 2020 and is projected to touch $8,956.8 million by 2031, with a CAGR of 17.54% during 2021–2031.
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The phase change material market is witnessing huge growth due to several factors, such as the growing demand for bio-based phase change materials. PCM is the first choice of materials for consumers because of the growing need for enhanced heat energy storage capabilities.
Techniques Used for Transferring Heat between the Fluid Cycle and PCMs
The process of heat transferring between the fluid cycle and the PCM is an important step for charging and discharging the PCM. To do so, different techniques are used, such as:
- Direct connection between PCM and heat transfer fluid
In this technique, there is a high requirement for a material that is capable of being chemically stable for a longer duration while being in direct contact with PCM and transferring sufficient heat during subsequent melting.
- Macroscopic capsules
It is one of the most commonly used methods for encapsulation. The reason behind this approach is to use a plastic module that is chemically neutral concerning heat transferring fluid and PMS.
This is the current new technique being used to transform heat between the fluid cycle and PCMs. In this, the phase change materials are encapsulated inside small polymer materials cells with a diameter of a few micrometers.
Due to this, massive heat exchange is witnessed, and a powder like substance is produced that can be used in different construction materials.
Currently, the demand for PCMs is growing at a much higher pace, especially for building constructions, as PCMs’ applications in the building constructions help in reducing the extra heat presence and increase the cooling effect without the installation of any other cooling system. In the coming years, the demand for PCMs will increase much more due to their cooling benefits that can be used by several industries.
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