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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Impact of coupled heat transfer and water flow on soil borehole thermal energy storage (SBTES) systems: Experimental and modeling investigation

  • Author(s): Moradi, A
  • Smits, KM
  • Massey, J
  • Cihan, A
  • McCartney, J
  • et al.

A promising energy storage option is to inject and store heat generated from renewable energy sources in geothermal borehole arrays to form soil-borehole thermal energy storage (SBTES) systems. Although it is widely recognized that the movement of water in liquid and vapor forms through unsaturated soils is closely coupled to heat transfer, these coupled processes have not been considered in modeling of SBTES systems located in the vadose zone. Instead, previous analyses have assumed that the soil is a purely conductive medium with constant hydraulic and thermal properties. Numerical modeling tools that are available to consider these coupled processes have not been applied to SBTES systems partly due to the scarcity of field or laboratory data needed for validation. The goal of this work is to test different conceptual and mathematical formulations that are used in heat and mass transfer theories and determine their importance in modeling SBTES systems. First, a non-isothermal numerical model that simulates coupled heat, water vapor and liquid water flux through soil and considers non-equilibrium liquid/gas phase change was adopted to simulate SBTES systems. Next, this model was used to investigate different coupled heat transfer and water flow using nonisothermal hydraulic and thermal constitutive models. Data collected from laboratory-scale tank tests involving heating of an unsaturated sand layer were used to validate the numerical simulations. Results demonstrate the need to include thermally induced water flow in modeling efforts as well as convective heat transfer, especially when modeling unsaturated flow systems. For the boundary conditions and soil types considered, convective heat flux arising from thermally induced water flow was greater than heat transfer due to conductive heat flux alone. Although this analysis needs to be applied to the geometry and site conditions for SBTES systems in the vadose zone, this observation indicates that thermally induced water flow can have significant effects on the efficiency of heat injection and extraction.

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