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Experience with fully operational solar-driven 10-ton LiBr/H2O


single-effect absorption cooling system in Thailand
A. Pongtornkulpanicha,, S. Thepaa, M. Amornkitbamrungb, C. Butcherc
a
Division of Energy Technology, School of Energy, Environment and Materials, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi,
Bangmod, Thungkru, Bangkok 10140, Thailand
b
Division of Thermal Technology, School of Energy and Materials, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, Bangmod,
Thungkru, Bangkok 10140, Thailand
c
Faculty of Applied Sciences, Delft University of Technology, Lorentzweg 1, 2628 CJ Delft, The Netherlands
Received 28 December 2006; accepted 21 September 2007
Available online 5 November 2007

Abstract

A solar-driven 10-ton LiBr/H2O single-effect absorption cooling system has been designed and installed at the School of Renewable
Energy Technology (SERT), Phitsanulok, Thailand. Construction took place in 2005, after which this system became fully operational
and has been supplying cooling for our main testing building’s air-conditioning. Data on the system’s operation were collected during
2006 and analyzed to find the extent to which solar energy replaced conventional energy sources. Here, we present these data and show
that the 72 m2 evacuated tube solar collector delivered a yearly average solar fraction of 81%, while the remaining 19% of thermal energy
required by the chiller was supplied by a LPG-fired backup heating unit. We also show that the economics of this cooling system are
dominated by the initial cost of the solar collector array and the absorption chiller, which are significantly higher than that of a similar-
size conventional VCC system.
r 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Solar absorption cooling; Lithium bromide solution; Solar fraction; Experimental research

1. Introduction an estimated 400,000 additional air-conditioning units per


year, each with an average power usage of 1500 W. It is
The world energy market is changing. As populations clear that air-conditioning is a field where significant results
grow and technological development advances in many can be achieved if the current vapor compression cycle
countries, so does the demand for energy. At the same time (VCC) systems can be replaced by better, less conventional-
fossil fuels, the conventional source for a large part of the energy intensive technologies. A very promising solution is
world’s energy requirements, are being depleted. These the vapor absorption cycle (VAC), which, unlike the work-
trends have resulted in a sharp increase in the cost of driven VCC, is a thermal-driven cycle [2]. Its main energy
power. In Thailand, the major consumer of electrical input comes from a thermal source, such as a solar
power is air-conditioning systems, which accounts for collector array or waste heat from industrial processes.
50  103 GWh/yr roughly half of the total electricity usage This greatly reduces the cooling system’s electricity
[1]. This figure is growing rapidly, as new buildings are consumption, and is an important step toward decentra-
outfitted and existing buildings are upgraded, resulting in lized energy production. Another major advantage of
VAC over VCC devices is that they do not use CFC
Corresponding author. Division of Energy Technology, School of
refrigerants and therefore do not contribute to depletion of
Energy, Environment and Materials, King Mongkut’s University of the ozone layer. Taken together these characteristics make
Technology Thonburi, Bangmod, Thungkru, Bangkok 10140, Thailand.
Tel.: +66 89610 5004.
VAC technology a very interesting option both from
E-mail addresses: ananpong@yahoo.com, ananpo@nu.ac.th long-term financial and environmental viewpoints. The
(A. Pongtornkulpanich). system described here is, to our knowledge, the first fully

0960-1481/$ - see front matter r 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.renene.2007.09.022
ARTICLE IN PRESS

operational solar vapor-absorption cooling (SVAC) system absorption cooling technology, and help break down
in Thailand. This 10-ton (35 kW) LiBr/H2O cooling system the cost-barriers, which currently prevent its widespread
is located at the School of Renewable Energy Technology commercialization.
(SERT), Naresuan University, Thailand. It supplies the
main testing building’s air-conditioning with daily cooling.
Our research demonstrates the technical viability of 2. Design and operation of 10-ton LiBr/H2O solar
solar absorption cooling systems to meet today’s air- absorption cooling system
conditioning demand, and at the same time gives a clear
picture of the economic aspects of these systems. In this 2.1. System design
way we expect to aid future research in improving solar
The fully operational 10-ton LiBr/H2O VAC cooling
system is located at the SERT, Naresuan University,
Phitsanulok, Thailand. It was installed in 2005, and has
been supplying cooling for the main testing building’s
air-conditioning. Fig. 1 shows the testing building with
the roof-mounted solar collectors. A schematic diagram of
the major components is given in Fig. 2. The construction
was funded by the Energy Policy & Planning Office
(EPPO). The overall system consists of five major
components: roof-mounted solar collector, 10-ton LiBr/
H2O single-effect absorption chiller, hot water storage
tank, heat backup system and fan coil units. The 72 m2
evacuated tube solar collector array converts incident solar
radiation to thermal energy and transfers this to the
working fluid, water.
This hot water is used to fire a 10-ton LiBr/H2O single-
effect absorption chiller, which produces chilled water. To
ensure a stable supply of hot water a 400 l storage tank
functions as a thermal buffer between collector and chiller.
Fig. 1. The main testing building of SERT with a 72 m2 roof-mounted
solar collector array, visible on the right, which forms the main energy The chiller requires a hot water temperature between 70
source for the building’s 10-ton LiBr/H2O single-effect absorption cooling and 95 1C. When the temperature of the water exiting the
system. storage tank drops below 70 1C, an LPG-fired backup

Fig. 2. Schematic diagram of solar-driven single-effect absorption chiller.


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heating unit is activated. Cooling water for the chiller is 2.3. 10-Ton LiBr/H2O single-effect absorption chiller
supplied by a cooling tower. The chilled water is circulated
through four fancoil units, which supply air-conditioning A Yazaki WFC SC-10 water-fired chiller uses thermal
to SERT’s main testing building. The technical details of energy supplied by hot water to produce chilled water. This
these components are as follows. 10-ton single-effect vapor absorption device employs a
lithium bromide water solution (LiBr/H2O), under va-
cuum, as the working pair. Refrigerant, liberated from the
2.2. Roof-mounted evacuated tube solar thermal collector solution by the supply of heat at the generator, produces a
cooling effect in the evaporator when cooling water is
The collector field, which is the main heat source for the circulated through the condenser and absorber. The
chiller, is mounted on the roof of the testing building, as nominal operating range for the hot water input is
shown in Fig. 3. It consists of 30 evacuated tube plates 70–95 1C at 2.4 l/s, resulting in chilled water at about 7 1C
arranged in 5 series of 6 units. and 1.5 l/s. Cooling water is supplied by a BKC-30 RT
The units are the model AP-30 manufactured by cooling tower with a capacity of 30 tons.
Apricus, each with an absorber area of 2.4 m2. Thermal
buffering between solar collector and chiller is achieved by
2.4. Fan coil air handling units
a 400 l storage tank, as shown in Fig. 4. The inlet and outlet
manifolds are designed to maintain thermal stratification
The chilled water is distributed to four Ecoaire WQW
of the stored hot water. If the temperature of water exiting
32 V fancoil units mounted in the main office of SERT’s
the storage tank drops below 70 1C, a LPG-fired Rinnai
testing building. These devices each have a nominal cooling
Infinity 32e continuous flow heater is activated to bring the
capacity of 32,000 BTU/h (9.4 kW). To ensure a stable
water temperature within the chiller’s operating range.
supply of chilled water, a 200 l cold water storage tank is
located between chiller and air handling units.

2.5. Component sizing

The estimated maximum cooling load for the rooms to


be air-conditioned is 22.4 kW. Four identical fancoil units,
with a total capacity of 37.8 kW, provide air handling. The
Yazaki WFC SC-10 absorption chiller offers a cooling
capacity of 35 kW, sufficient for this installation. The
thermal energy supply required by the chiller can be
estimated using Eq. (1):
Cooling load of building
E th;chiller ¼ . (1)
COP of chiller
The chiller’s nominal COP is 0.7 [3], giving an estimated
thermal energy requirement of 32 kW. The main energy
source for the chiller is the evacuated tube solar collector
Fig. 3. Roof-mounted evacuated tube solar collector. array. The conversion efficiency of a collector unit is
described by Eq. (2):
Tm  Ta ðT m  T a Þ2
Z ¼ Z0  a1  a2 , (2)
GT GT
where the conversion factor Z0 ¼ 0.717 and the loss
coefficients a1 and a2 are 1.52 and 0.0085, respectively [4].
Calculating the conversion efficiency under standard
operating conditions, assuming typical levels of incident
solar radiation GT, allows the energy output per unit area
of the collector array to be estimated. The optimal collector
size can then be determined to match the expected cooling
load.
The collector array was dimensioned to supply the
majority of thermal energy required, but during periods of
high cooling load and low insolation a backup LPG-fired
Fig. 4. Stratified hot water storage tank. heating unit is also activated.
Solar radiation
Apricus-Manifold AP-30 (Focus Technology)
Apricus-58/1800 ET/HP (Focus Technology)

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Temp. Sensor : T1-T9
Pressure Sensor : P1-P8
Flow Sensor : F1-F4, F1.1-F1.5
Glove Valve
Ball Valve

Fig. 5. Piping diagram of solar-driven 10-ton LiBr/H2O single-effect absorption cooling system installed at SERT’s main testing building.
ARTICLE IN PRESS

2.6. System control and monitoring system was operated continuously for more than 5 h and
the data logger was activated are included. The SF varies
The entire installation is controlled and monitored by a from 63% up to almost 100%, with a yearly average of
custom-designed computer system. On activation each 81%. The variations are due to different operating
day, the system runs through a startup procedure. If conditions. The two main factors affecting the SF are the
sufficient solar radiation is available, it starts the pump to meteorological conditions and the time of day when the
circulate water through the collector array. The collector system is operated, both determining the level of incident
output temperature is monitored until it rises above 75 1C, solar radiation. If there is insufficient solar radiation
after which the absorption chiller is turned on. The available, for example early in the morning or when the
temperature of water entering the chiller’s generator is sky is overcast, the backup heater is activated, resulting in a
continuously measured to ensure delivery of sufficient lower SF.
thermal energy. If this temperature drops below 70 1C the Fig. 7a shows a typical overcast, low insolation day on
LPG-fired backup heater is activated, augmenting the which the backup heater is fired frequently. Fig. 7b shows a
warm water extracted from the hot water storage tank. typical clear-sky day with limited LPG usage.
During operation the chilled water temperature exiting
the chiller is monitored to verify that the system is
functioning correctly. The piping diagram depicted in 3.2. Economic analysis
Fig. 5 shows the system construction and how components
are interconnected. The expenditures made for this cooling system can be
split into initial costs at installation time and operational
costs over time as the system is in use. Table 1 gives an
3. Results and discussion overview of these expenses.
The two largest expenses for our SVAC system were the
3.1. System performance solar collector array and the absorption chiller. The
collector units were fabricated in Germany and imported
The thermodynamic performance of this cooling instal- to Thailand, which increased their cost substantially. As
lation was assessed by measuring the flow of energy solar technology becomes more mainstream, locally
between its components. The collector converts solar produced products of similar type will become available,
radiation into thermal energy of the heat medium, water. resulting in reduced cost. Absorption chillers of the type
If this thermal energy is insufficient to drive the chiller, used here are at present still specialty devices, and their
the LPG-fired heater supplements it. This dual energy price is consequently much higher than that of mass-
source configuration allows the system to function under produced VCC devices. This difference in price will
any environmental conditions. We define the solar decrease in the near future due to the rapidly growing
fraction (SF) as the fraction of the total thermal energy interest in alternative thermal-driven, CFC-free technolo-
delivered to the chiller, which is supplied by the solar gies, and their application on a wider scale.
collector, over a period of 1 day [5]. Fig. 6 shows the SF Various other expenses, such as that for the extensive
measured over the year 2006. Only days when the cooling measuring and monitoring framework used for our

1 Solar fraction 800


Solar radiation
0.9
700
Daily average solar radiation (w/m2)

0.8
Daily average solar fraction

600
0.7
500
0.6

0.5 400

0.4
300
0.3
200
0.2
100
0.1

0 0
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Fig. 6. Daily average solar fraction and daily average solar radiation, values per month of 2006 are the average of the daily values measured for days when
the cooling installation was operated continuously for more than 5 h. Insufficient data were available for August 2006 due to maintenance activities.
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Fig. 7. Typical system behavior on (a) overcast and (b) clear-sky day. Qsolar is the thermal power supplied by the collector array to the hot water storage
tank and Qto chiller is the thermal power delivered to the chiller.

Table 1 4. Conclusion
Overview of expenses for the SVAC system installed at SERT’s testing
building Our solar-driven 10-ton LiBr/H2O single-effect absorp-
Items Components Value ($) tion cooling system is installed at SERT’s main testing
building. This fully functional system demonstrates how
Initial expenses Heating system 28,800 current technology can be used to provide air-conditioning
Collector units
in a much more environmentally friendly fashion than the
Hot water storage tank
Backup heating unit conventional VCC devices. This installation was designed
and dimensioned using knowledge about local meteorolo-
Cooling system 47,600
gical conditions and the expected cooling load of the
Absorption chiller
Cooling tower building. Here, we have shown that the 72 m2 evacuated
Fancoil units tube solar collector delivers a yearly average 81% of the
thermal energy required by the chiller, with the remaining
Control and monitoring 8500
Computer hardware 19% generated by a LPG-fired backup heating unit. The
Control software economic aspects of a SVAC system differ from traditional
Measurement probe VCC devices in that the initial installation costs are much
Installation and commissioning 30,000 higher. This is compensated by lower operating costs,
Total 114,900 which are less sensitive to the price of electricity. The two
major expenses during construction of our SVAC system
Operational and LPG 240
running cost per Electricity 1470 were the solar collector array and the chiller. As technology
year advances and these components come into large-scale
production, their cost will decrease. At the same time the
price of the electricity is expected to increase. These two
research, will be lower for commercial installations. factors lead us to believe that solar-driven cooling
These factors will bring the cost of SVAC systems down, technology will become cost competitive with current
while at the same time the increasing price of electricity VCC devices in the near future.
will make VCC systems less attractive. Although SERT’s
cooling system is not yet economically attractive, we Acknowledgments
expect it will be a proof of concept to help make SVAC
systems cost competitive with traditional VCC systems in The authors would like to thank the School of Renew-
the near future. able Energy Technology (SERT), Naresuan University and
ARTICLE IN PRESS

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[3] Srikhirin P, Aphornratana S, Chungpaibulpatana S. A review of
absorption refrigeration technologies. Renew Sust Energy Rev 2001;
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[4] Apricus solar hot water /http://www.apricus.com/html/solar_collector_
[1] Electricity Authority of Thailand (EGAT). How to save electrical technical_info.htmS.
energy and air conditioner /http://www.egat.co.th/misc/equipment/ [5] Muneer T, Uppal AH. Modeling and simulation of a solar absorption
equipment7.htmS. cooling system. Appl Energy 1985;19:209–29.