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Charge and discharge behavior of elemental sulfur in isochoric high temperature thermal energy storage systems


Thermal energy storage with elemental sulfur is a low-cost alternative to molten salts for many medium to high-temperature energy applications (200–600 °C). In this effort, by examining elemental sulfur stored isochorically inside isolated pipes, we find that sulfur provides attractive charge/discharge performance since it operates in the liquid-vapor regime at the temperatures relevant to many important applications, such as combined heat and power (CHP) plants and concentrating solar power (CSP) plants with advanced power cycle systems. The isolated pipe configuration is relevant to shell-and-tube thermal battery applications where the heat transfer fluid flows over the storage pipes through the shell. We analyze the transient charge and discharge behavior of sulfur inside the pipes using detailed computational modeling of the complex conjugate heat transfer and fluid flow phenomena. The computational model is validated against experiments of a single tube with well-defined temperature boundary conditions and internal temperature measurements. The model results evaluate the influence of pipe diameter on charge and discharge times, heat transfer rate, and Nusselt number due to buoyancy driven convection currents. Depending on the Rayleigh number (pipe diameter), the average Nusselt number obtained for discharge is 3–14 times higher than proposed solid-liquid phase change technologies based on molten salt, which are limited in their performance due to conduction based solidification and low thermal conductivity. The results show competing trade-offs between increase in heat transfer coefficient, thermal energy stored in sulfur, and increase in charge and discharge time with increase in pipe diameter. A preferred pipe diameter can be determined for target applications based on their requirements and these competing trade-offs. A validated fundamental correlation for Nusselt number as a function of Rayleigh number for charge and discharge is developed that can be used to design the sulfur-based thermal storage system for transient operation.

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