Experimental investigation of vortex flow in a two-chamber solar thermochemical reactor

Erik E. Koepf, Matthew D. Lindemer, Suresh G. Advani, Ajay K. Prasad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Recent advances in the field of large-scale solar thermochemical processing have given rise to substantial research efforts and demonstration projects. Many applications of high-temperature solar-thermal technology employ an enclosed cavity environment, thus requiring a transparent window through which concentrated solar energy can enter. One configuration employed is a two-cavity reactor connected by a narrow aperture, where solar flux entering through the window is focused at the aperture plane before diverging into the lower chamber, where the chemical reaction occurs. For the Zn/ZnO thermochemical cycle where Zn is solar-thermally reduced from ZnO in a high-temperature cavity environment, effective removal of the product gas stream containing zinc vapor is of paramount importance to prevent fouling by condensation on the reactor window. Two argon-jet configurations, tangential and radial, located around the circumference of the upper chamber are used to control the gas flow within the reactor cavity. First, the tangential jets drive a vortex flow, and second, the radial wall jet travels across the window before converging at the reactor center line and turning downward to create a downward jet. The tangential jet-induced flow creates a rotating vortex, contributing to overall flow stability, and the radial jet-induced downward flow counters the updraft created by the vortex while actively cooling and sweeping clear the inner surface of the window. Flow visualization in a full-scale transparent model of the reactor using smoke and laser illumination is employed to characterize the effectiveness of aerodynamic window clearing and to characterize the processes by which a vortex flow develops and breaks down in a two-chamber solar reactor geometry. Based on a large dataset of flow visualization images, a metric is developed to define vortex stability over a wide range of flow conditions and identify an ideal operating range for which a vortex formation path is established that maintains stable flow patterns and removes product gases while minimizing the use of argon gas. The predominant influence of vortex instability and breakdown is identified and examined for the case of a beam-down, two-chamber solar reactor geometry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4024965
JournalJournal of Fluids Engineering, Transactions of the ASME
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2013


  • Aerodynamic window clearing
  • Flow visualization
  • Solar reactor
  • Thermochemical cycles
  • Vortex breakdown
  • Vortex flow
  • Zinc oxide


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