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Accepted Manuscript

Research Paper

Experimental Study for Shell-and-Tube Molten Salt Heat Exchangers

Jin Qian, Qiao-Ling Kong, Hong-Wu Zhang, Zhi-Hong Zhu, Wei-Guang


Huang, Li Wen-Hui

PII: S1359-4311(17)30279-X
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applthermaleng.2017.06.005
Reference: ATE 10523

To appear in: Applied Thermal Engineering

Received Date: 13 January 2017


Revised Date: 4 May 2017
Accepted Date: 3 June 2017

Please cite this article as: J. Qian, Q-L. Kong, H-W. Zhang, Z-H. Zhu, W-G. Huang, L. Wen-Hui, Experimental
Study for Shell-and-Tube Molten Salt Heat Exchangers, Applied Thermal Engineering (2017), doi: http://dx.doi.org/
10.1016/j.applthermaleng.2017.06.005

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Experimental Study for Shell-and-Tube Molten Salt Heat Exchangers

QIAN Jin1,2, KONG Qiao-Ling3,4, ZHANG Hong-Wu1, ZHU Zhi-Hong3,4, HUANG Wei-Guang3,4, Li Wen-Hui3,4

( 1. Institute of Engineering Thermophysics, CAS, Beijing 100190, China;

2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China;

3. Shanghai Advanced Research Institute, CAS, Shanghai 201210, China;

4. Institute of Innovational and Advanced Nuclear Power, CAS, Shanghai 201800, China )

Abstract: Molten salt heat exchangers are key components in some advanced power systems. Two shell-and-tube

molten salt heat exchangers are experimentally investigated, including a gas cooled one with finned tubes and a molten

salt to salt one with segmental baffles in the shell side. Based on a nonlinear regression scheme, heat transfer coefficients

in both the tube and shell sides are obtained. Heat transfer characteristics of molten salt in the tube side are discussed and

compared with three empirical correlations. It is found that Wu’s Equation has better agreement with the experimental

data than Gnielinski’s and Hausen’s Equations in transitional flow region. For the developing laminar flow in the tube

side, the widely used Sieder–Tate correlation underestimates heat transfer coefficients of molten salt by up to 30%.

Compared with oil and a chart method proposed from sufficient database, molten salt seems to have better heat transfer

performance than other working fluids in the baffled shell side. Further researches on the heat transfer characteristics of

molten salt in the shell side with baffles are needed and significant.

Keywords: molten salt; shell-and-tube heat exchanger; heat transfer characteristics; experimental investigation

Corresponding author: QIAN Jing, qianjin@iet.cn

1 Introduction

Molten salts are recognized as potential heat transfer fluids in nuclear[1, 2] and solar[3, 4] applications, since they have

excellent advantages[5], including large volumetric heat capacity, high boiling point, low vapor pressure and high thermal

stability. Several advanced power systems[6, 7] have been developed to produce very high temperature heat for more

1
efficient and lower cost electricity generation, by involving molten salt heat transport loops and gas Brayton cycles.

Molten salt heat exchangers are key components in these systems and have gained extensive attention. Although several

new concept molten salt heat exchangers have been proposed, the shell-and-tube configuration is still a candidate in

practice[8, 9].

In order to investigate the heat transfer characteristics of molten salt in the tube side, many experimental studies have

been conducted with molten salts flowing in tubes, from smooth to enhanced tubes. Hoffman[10, 11] studied on the

convective heat transfer characteristics of FLiNaK (LiF–NaF–KF) and Hitec (NaNO3–KNO3–NaNO2) salt in circular

tubes. Cooke and Cox[12] experimentally studied the convective heat transfer characteristics of LiF-BeF2-ThF4 -UF4 in a

smooth tube. Silverman[13] investigated the forced convective heat transfer characteristics of LiF–BeF2–ThF2–UF4 and

NaBF4–NaF flowing through a smooth tube with uniform heat flux. Liu[14] and Wu[15] investigated the convective heat

transfer characteristics of LiNO3 in a circular tube in transitional and turbulent flow region. Wu[16] also conducted another

study on the convective heat transfer of Hitec salt in a circular tube in both transitional and turbulent flow region. Lu[17-20]

experimentally investigated the convective heat transfer characteristics of molten salt in different tubes, including spirally

grooved tubes, annular passages and so on. Chen[21] investigated the convective heat transfer characteristic of HTS salt in

a concentric tube within the range of Reynolds number from 10000 to 50000 and Prandtl number from 11 to 27. In recent

years, some numerical studies were also conducted. Ferng[22] numerically studied the turbulent heat transfer

characteristics of FLiNaK in a tube. Sona[23] and Khanwale[24] further numerically investigated the heat transfer

characteristics of FLiNaK in turbulent boundary layer of pipe flow. It can be found that most of the researches are limited

to the heat transfer process for molten salt in pipe flow and few concerns the real heat transfer characteristics in the tube

side of practical molten salt heat exchangers.

Researches on the heat transfer characteristics of molten salt in the shell side without baffles can be found in some

literatures[25, 26]. Baffle is an important component of shell-and-tube heat exchangers[27] and widely used in practice.

2
Besides supporting the tube bundles, baffles form flow passage and enhance heat transfer for the shell-side fluids in

conjunction with the shell. As a result, it must be of great significance to study the heat transfer characteristics of molten

salt in the baffled shell side. But such researches are rare in open literatures.

In this paper, two shell-and-tube molten salt heat exchangers, a gas cooled one and a molten salt to salt one, are

experimentally investigated respectively. A nonlinear regression scheme is applied to analyze the experimental data. Heat

transfer characteristics of molten salt in the tube side are exhibited in developing laminar and transitional flow regions,

which are subsequently compared with several widely accepted correlations for pipe flow. In the baffled shell side, heat

transfer characteristics of molten salt are discussed and compared with oil. What’s more, heat transfer coefficients

calculated by a chart method, which summarizes from sufficient data collected over 20 years, are compared with the

experiment data, too.

Nomenclature
A heat transfer area, m2 L effective length of heat exchanger tubes, mm
2
Ac cross-section area, m Di inner diameter of the shell, mm

Q heat flux, W Do outer diameter of the shell, mm


-1
R overall thermal resistance, K.W D1 limited circular diameter of tube layout
-1
Rs thermal resistance in the shell side, K.W B baffle pitch, mm
-1
Rt thermal resistance in the tube side, K.W Pt trans pitch, mm
-1
Rw wall thermal resistance, K.W Pl long pitch, mm

∆Tlmtd log mean temperature difference, K

D hydraulic diameter Greek symbols

T temperature, K ρ density, kg/m3


3
V flow rate, m /h μ dynamic viscosity, Pa s

cp specific heat, kJ/(kg. K) Subscripts

k thermal conductivity, W/(m. K) w tube wall


2
h heat transfer coefficient, W /(m .k) in inlet

Re Reynolds number out outlet

Pr Prandtl number t tube side

Nu Nusselt number s shell side

di inner diameter of heat exchanger tubes, mm max maximum

do outer diameter of heat exchanger tubes, mm min minimum

3
2 Experiments

2.1 System apparatus

The schematic of the experiment system is shown in Figure 1 and the picture of the system is shown in Figure 2. It

mainly consists of four loops, including a gas loop, a cooling water loop and two molten salt loops. Molten salt is stored

in two tanks and remains solid at ambient temperature. At the beginning of a test, molten salt in different tanks is

preheated to different temperatures. The hot salt with higher temperature flows through the tube side of the molten salt to

salt heat exchanger and then reheated by electric heaters in its storage tank (shown as red line in Figure 2), which is

cooled by the cold salt in the shell side. The cold salt is heated in the shell side, but it is cooled subsequently by gas in the

gas cooled heat exchanger before recycling back to its tank(shown as blue line in Figure 2). The heated gas transfers the

heat obtained from molten salt to the cooling water loop in a water cooler(shown as yellow line in Figure 2). The cooling

water loop is designed to remove the heat to the environment(shown as purple line in Figure 2). In order to avoid the

solidification of molten salt, a heat tracing system is used to preheat pipes, vessels and heat exchangers in the system. In

addition, they are all covered with thermal insulation material to decrease the heat loss.

The power of the system ranges from 0 to 50 kW. The maximum flow rate for molten salt and gas is 12 m3·h-1 and

2200 m3·h-1, and the maximum operating temperature is 450 ℃ and 150 ℃, respectively. An ultrasonic flowmeter is

applied to measure the molten salt flow rate, with an uncertainty of 3%. The gas flow rate is measured by a differential

pressure flowmeter, with an uncertainty of 5 %. K-type thermocouples produced by ROSSMOUNT are chosen for the

temperature measurement, with an uncertainty of 0.30 K. All the thermocouples have been calibrated before use. In order

to improve the accuracy of temperature measurement, mixed chambers are installed at the inlet and outlet of molten salt.

4
1 2
4 6 9
T

3 5
T
T
8

T
T
T 7
T
T 11
10
12 14
13

Figure 1 Schematic of the experiment system

1— gas tank 2— cooling tower 3— fan 4— electric valve 5— flowmeter

6— thermocouple 7—gas cooled heat exchanger 8— water pump 9— water cooler 10— molten salt to salt heat exchanger

11— salt pump 12— hot salt tank 13— electric heaters 14— cold salt tank

Figure 2 Picture of the experimental system


5
2.2 Heat exchanger description

2.2.1 Gas cooled molten salt heat exchanger

The tested gas cooled molten salt heat exchanger is a finned-tube one. Molten salt flows in the tube side and air in

the shell side. Detailed structural description is given in Figure 3 and Table 1. Heat transfer area in the tube side is

determined by the inner surface of tubes and it is determined by the outside surface of tubes and fins in the shell side.

Figure 3 Structural description of the gas cooled heat exchanger

Table 1 Geometry of the gas cooled heat exchanger

Item Dimensions and description


Material Stainless steel
Tube geometry do/ di/mm 13.75/10.45
Effective length, L/mm 350
Tube pass 4
Number 44
Trans pitch, Pt/mm 40
Long pitch, Pl /mm 35
Fin geometry Type Plain round
Fins/length 312
Over fin, de/mm 38
Base thickness, δ/mm 0.3
2
Shell side geometry Heat transfer area, A/m 8.63
2
Cross-sectional flow area, Ac/m 0.0605

2.2.2 Molten salt to salt heat exchanger

The tested molten salt to salt heat exchanger is a shell-and-tube one with four segmental baffles. The hot salt flows in

the tube side and the cold salt in the shell side. The tube bundle contains 26 U-type tubes. Detailed structural description

can be found in Figure 4 and Table 2. Heat transfer area in the tube side is determined by the inner surface of tubes and it

is determined by the outside surface of tubes in the shell side.


6
Figure 4 Structural description of the molten salt to salt heat exchanger

Table 2 Geometry of the molten salt to salt heat exchanger

Item Dimensions and description


Shell side geometry Do/Di/mm 219/207
Material Stainless steel
Tube geometry do/ di/mm 14/10
D1/mm 203
Effective length, L/mm 500
Tube pass 2
Number 26
Trans pitch, Pt/mm 19
Baffle geometry Cut ratio 25%
Thickness/mm 4
Number 4
Baffle pitch, B/mm 85

2.3 Working fluids

The molten salt in the system is a nitrate mixture KNO3 -NaNO2-NaNO3(53–40–7mol%). It has a melting point at

about 142 ℃. All its thermal-physical properties have been measured directly, assisted by Shanghai Institute of Applied

Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences[28].

3 Data reduction

3.1 Determination of the shell-side Re

The shell-side fluid’s mean velocity defined as:

Vs
u= (1)
Ac

For the molten salt to salt heat exchanger[29]:

7
  D − do  
Ac = B  Di − D1 +  1  ( Pt − d o )  (2)
  Pt  

With the mean velocity at hand, the Reynolds number in the shell side can be expressed as:

ρ ud o
Re = (3)
µ

3.2 Heat transfer rate and overall thermal resistance

Heat transfer rates in both the sides are calculated as:

Qt = ( ρ × V × c p ) × Tin − Tout t
(4)
t

Qs = ( ρ × V × cp ) × Tin − Tout s (5)


s

Average heat transfer rate , Qave, is defined as:

Qt + Qs
Qave = (6)
2

Heat balance deviation in percentage is defined as:

Qt − Qs
ε= × 100% (7)
Qave

During the test, the heat balance deviation should be no more than 5 %.

The overall thermal resistance of a heat exchanger, R, is then defined as follows:

Qave
R= (8)
∆Tlmtd
∆Tmax − ∆Tmin
∆Tlmtd = (9)
ln ( ∆Tmax / ∆Tmin )

∆Tmax = max(Tt,in − Ts,out , Tt,out − Ts,in ) (10)

∆Tmin = min(Tt,in − Ts,out , Tt,out − Ts,in ) (11)

Experimental uncertainties are evaluated based on the method summarized by Fred[30]. As a result, the uncertainty of

heat transfer rate is estimated to be no more than 10% for air and 15% for molten salt, taking into account the

uncertainties of flow rate, temperature and thermal properties.

3.3 Separation of heat transfer coefficients

Thermal resistance balance inside a shell-and-tube heat exchanger can be written as:

8
R = Rs + Rt + Rw (12)

Unlike the overall resistance R, individual components in Eq.(12) cannot be measured directly in the experiment.

They should be separated from the measured R. In order to conduct the separation process, only one specified side’s

thermal resistance varies in the experiment and the other resistances keep constant. As a result, Eq.(12) can be rewritten

as:

1
R= +C (13)
hA

Heat transfer correlation in the specified side is assumed to take the following form:

Nu = mRea Pr1/3 (14)

According to Eq.(14), Eq.(13) can be rewritten as :

1
R= +C (15)
mRe Pr1/3 Ak / D
a

The three unknowns( m, a and C ) in Eq.(15) can be determined by a nonlinear regression scheme[31]. After that, heat

transfer coefficients in the specified side is obtained by

1
h= (16)
A( R − C )

4 Results and discussion

4.1 Experimental conditions and results

Experimental conditions in both heat exchangers are listed in Table 3. According to the separation process, the flow

rate should be variable in one side and fixed in the other side(to keep constant thermal resistance) in a single test. For the

gas cooled heat exchanger, the two tests are conducted with variable flow rates in the tube side respectively and the

measured results are listed in Figure 5. For the molten salt to salt heat exchanger, the test a is also conducted with variable

flow rates in the tube side and the results are listed in Figure 5, too. The test b is conducted with variable flow rates in the

shell side and the results are listed in Figure 6. Based on the experimental data, the unknowns determined in the

separation process are listed in Table 4.

9
Table 3 Experimental conditions

Molten salt to salt heat exchanger


Test a Test b
Tube side Shell side Tube side Shell side
3 -1
Flow rate, V /m ·h 1.37~6.19 3.99~4.02 4.17~4.19 1.43~7.16
Inlet temperature, t in /℃ 268.19~270.3 231.55~238.50 271.63~269.72 230.55~235.35
Outlet temperature, tout /℃ 258.10~264.30 235.55~244.25 266.74~263.45 244.21~237.65

Gas cooled heat exchanger


Test a Test b
Tube side Shell side Tube side Shell side
3 -1
Flow rate, V /m ·h 1.09~4.05 312.20~314.60 2.53~6.94 1226.6~1257.5
Inlet temperature, t in /℃ 294.31~298.07 26.94~31.33 293.37~294.94 43.67~63.00
Outlet temperature, tout /℃ 277.35~292.28 117.54~124.05 281.25~289.24 90.37~102.61

Table 4 Unknowns determined in the separation process

a m C
Molten salt to salt heat exchanger, test a 0.9723 0.0045 0.00746
Molten salt to salt heat exchanger, test b 0.5512 0.6154 0.00118
Gas cooled heat exchanger, test a 0.9527 0.0049 0.01820
Gas cooled heat exchanger, test b 0.9566 0.0057 0.01020

0.025
Gas cooled heat exchanger, test a
Gas cooled heat exchanger, test b
Molten salt to salt heat exchanger,test a
0.020
R(K.W )

0.015
-1

0.010

0.005

0.000
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
3
V(m /h)

Figure 5 Overall thermal resistance vs flow rates in the tube side

10
Molten salt to salt heat exchanger,test b
0.0024

R (K.W )
-1
0.0021

0.0018

2 4 6 8
3
V(m /h)

Figure 6 Overall thermal resistance vs flow rates in the shell side

Figure 7 shows the heat balance deviation in both heat exchangers. It could be found that deviation in all the

experiment conditions is no more than 5%, which can preliminary confirm the dependability of the experimental system.

0.08
Gas cooled heat exchanger
Molten salt to salt heat exchanger
0.06
5%

0.04
ε
0.02

0.00

-0.02
0 5 10 15 20 25

Figure 7 Heat balance deviation in the experiment

4.2 Heat transfer characteristics of molten salt in the tube side

Heat transfer coefficients in the tube side could be calculated based on the parameters listed in Table 4, according to

Eq.(16). Combing with the existing data obtained from a plain-tube gas cooled heat exchanger[28], heat transfer

characteristics of molten salt in the tube side are shown in Figure 8 within the range of Pr from 9.8 to 18.9 and Re from

11
987 to 12075, covering the laminar and transitional flow regions. Since L/di<60 in all the three heat exchangers, the

laminar flow is not fully developed but developing. For transitional flow in tubes, Wu[16] has proposed an empirical

correlation based on sufficient experiment data obtained from various molten salts.

Nu = 0.00154 Re1.1Pr1/3 (17)

For developing laminar flow in tubes, the Sieder–Tate correlation obtained from oils[32] is widely accepted.

1/3 0.14
 RePr   µ f 
Nu = 1.86     (18)
 L / d i   µw 

Figure 8 shows the comparison between the experimental data and the above two correlations. It can be found that

laminar flow turns to transitional flow at Re=2500 in the tube side. The deviation in transitional flow is within ±15%

and that means Wu’s Equation has a good agreement with the data. But in the developing laminar flow region, the

Sieder–Tate correlation underestimates the heat transfer coefficients by up to 30%.

Molten salt to salt heat exchanger 15%


Plain tube gas cooled heat exchanger
40 Finned tube gas cooled heat exchanger
1/3

-15%
Nu/Pr

Re=2500

20

1.1 1/3
Nu=0.0154Re Pr
30%
1/3 1/3
Nu=1.86(RePr) /(l/d)
0
1000 10000
Re

Figure 8 Heat transfer characteristics in tube-side

[33]
For transitional flow in pipe, Gnielinski’s and Hausen’s[34] Equations are two widely accepted empirical

correlations, which are usually applied in the tube-side design of a heat exchanger for other working fluids(like water, oil

and so on). Hence, the experiment data is also compared with them and the results are shown in Figure 9 and Figure 10.

Max deviation in both figures is up to 25%. It could be concluded that Wu’s Equation is more accurate to evaluate the

12
heat transfer coefficients of molten salt in the tube side.

40
Molten salt to salt heat exchanger 10%
Plain tube gas cooled heat exchanger

0.11
Finned tube gas cooled heat exchanger

Nu/Pr (1+(D/L) )(Prb/Prw)


30

2/3
-25%
20
0.4

10

Gnielinski's Equation
0
2000 4000 Re 6000 8000 10000 12000

Figure 9 Comparison with Gnielinski's Equation

40
Molten salt to salt heat exchanger
Plain tube gas cooled heat exchanger 10%
0.14

Finned tube gas cooled heat exchanger


[1+(D/L) ](μb/μw)

30
2/3

-25%
20
0.42
Nu/Pr

10

Hansen's Equation
0
2000 4000 Re 6000 8000 10000 12000

Figure 10 Comparison with Hansen's Equation

4.3 Heat transfer characteristics of molten salt in the shell side

Heat transfer characteristics of molten salt in the shell side with segmental baffles are presented in Figure 11. It can

be found that flow is laminar when Re<210, transitional when 210≤Re≤550 and turbulent when Re>550. According to

the parameters in Table 4 and Eq.(14), the heat transfer correlation in the shell side for transitional flow can be expressed

as:

13
Nu = 0.6154 Re0.5512 Pr1/3 (19)

Heat transfer data obtained from oil[29] in a baffled shell is compared with molten salt in Figure 11. It is obviously

that there is a sensible difference between molten salt and oil. Since major flow geometries(cut ration and B/Di) are

similar for molten salt and oil in the comparison, it seems that molten salt has better heat transfer performance than oil in

the baffled shell side. This would be further proved in another comparison shown in Figure 12. The calculation results

shown in Figure 12 are obtained from a chart method proposed by Zahid[35], which summarizes from sufficient data

collected over 20 year. In the chart method, heat transfer coefficients in the shell side are calculated as Eq. (20). All the

factors in Eq. (20) can be evaluated in a chart proposed by Zahid. Figure 12 shows that the calculation method based on

existing database from other working fluids will underestimate the heat transfer coefficients of molten salt in the baffled

shell side by 19%. As a result, further researches on the heat transfer characteristics in the shell side with baffles are

needed for molten salt.

 1/3 0.14 
h =  Fs Fp FLk 2/3 ( c p µ ) ( µ / µ0 )  / do (20)
 

27
Molten salt
24 Oil

21

18
1/3

15
Nu/Pr

0.5512 1/3
12 Nu=0.6154Re Pr
9
Re=550
6 Re=210
3 0.474 1/3
Nu=0.706Re Pr
0
100 Re 1000

Figure 11 Heat transfer characteristics of molten salt in the shell side

14
1400
Caculation results
Experimental data

1200

18.5% 18.6%

h(W.m .K )
-1
18.4% 19.2%

-2
1000
18.5%

19.4%
800
18.5%

600
200 300 Re 400 500 600

Figure 12 Comparison between experimental data and calculation results

5 conclusion

1) Laminar flow in the tube side for molten salt turns to transitional flow at Re=2500. For the developing laminar

flow, the traditional Sieder–Tate correlation underestimates the heat transfer coefficients of molten salt by up to

30%.

2) For transitional flow in the tube side, the empirical heat transfer correlation for molten salt proposed by Wu is

more accurate than the other two widely used empirical correlations: Gnielinski’s Equation and Hausen’s

Equation.

3) In the shell side, flow of molten salt is laminar within Re<210, transitional when 210≤Re≤550 and turbulent

when Re>550. There is a sensible difference between molten salt and oil in the heat transfer in the baffled shell

side.

4) Calculation method based on existing database will underestimate the heat transfer coefficients of molten salt in

the baffled shell side by 19%. Molten salt seems to have better heat transfer performance than other working

fluids in the baffled shell side. Further researches on the flow and heat transfer in the shell side with baffles are

needed for molten salt.

15
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Figure 1 Schematic of the experiment system

Figure 2 Picture of the experimental system

Figure 3 Structural description of the gas cooled heat exchanger

Figure 4 Structural description of the molten salt to salt heat exchanger

Figure 5 Overall thermal resistance vs flow rates in the tube side

Figure 6 Overall thermal resistance vs flow rates in the shell side

Figure 7 Heat balance deviation in the experiment

Figure 8 Heat transfer characteristics in tube-side

Figure 9 Comparison with Gnielinski's Equation

Figure 10 Comparison with Hansen's Equation

Figure 11 Heat transfer characteristics of molten salt in the shell side

Figure 12 Comparison between experimental data and calculation results

Table 1 Geometry of the gas cooled heat exchanger

Table 2 Geometry of the molten salt to salt heat exchanger

Table 3 Experimental conditions

Table 4 Unknowns determined in the separation process

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Highlights

 An experimental system for molten salt heat exchangers is built.


 Heat transfer of molten salt in tube side is shown in laminar and transient flow.
 Heat transfer of molten salt in the baffled shell side is analyzed.
 Heat transfer of molten salt with baffles is compared with other working fluids.

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