Numerical Analysis of Thermal Behavior and Fluid Flow in Geothermal Energy Piles
Thompson III, Willis Hope
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Geothermal heat exchangers are a growing energy technology that improve the energy efficiency of heating and cooling systems in buildings. Vertical borehole heat exchangers (BHE) coupled with ground source heat pumps have been widely developed and researched in the past century. The major disadvantage of BHEs is the initial capital cost required to drill the boreholes. Geothermal energy piles (GEP) were developed to help offset the high initial cost of these systems. A GEP combines ground source heat pump technology with deep earth structural foundations of buildings. GEPs are relatively new technology and robust standards and guidelines have not yet been developed for the design of these systems. The main operational difference between GEPs and conventional BHEs is the length and diameter of the below ground heat exchangers. The diameter of a GEP is much larger and the length is typically shorter than BHEs. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis is used in this study to investigate and better understand how structural piles perform as geothermal heat exchangers. The CFD analysis is used to simulate an existing experimental energy pile test. The experimental test is modeled as built including fluid modeling to provide additional detail into the behavior of the circulation fluid within the pile. Two comparisons of large diameter GEPs are made using CFD analysis to gain knowledge of the effects of varying pile diameter and loop configuration. The thermal response test was successfully modeled using the CFD model. The CFD results closely match the results of the field test. The large diameter comparisons show that the performance of an energy pile will increase as the diameter increases with a constant loop density. Multiple numbers of loops were tested in a constant diameter pile and the results show that with symmetrically placed loops the performance will increase with a greater number of loops in the pile.
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