Issue
Renew. Energy Environ. Sustain.
Volume 6, 2021
Achieving Zero Carbon Emission by 2030
Article Number 38
Number of page(s) 13
DOI https://doi.org/10.1051/rees/2021040
Published online 20 October 2021

© Q. Al-Yasiri and M. Szabó, Published by EDP Sciences, 2021

Licence Creative CommonsThis is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1 Introduction

Building energy consumption is maximising year after year due to population, urbanisation, and people's lifestyle. The increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change risks have drawn attention to adopting alternative energy sources [1,2]. Buildings are globally known as the biggest consumer of energy and the main responsible for GHG emissions. According to the International Energy Agency, the GHG emissions will be doubled by 2050 unless serious changes in the energy sources pattern being taken [3]. In this regard, researchers and responsible parties are working to develop systems and technologies for low or zero energy buildings.

Among modern technologies, phase change materials (PCMs) have been introduced as a revolutionary solution for many thermal applications over the last four decades [4]. PCMs are used for plastering mortars [5,6], concrete [79], bricks [1014], walls [1517], roofs [1820], floors [21,22], windows and glasing elements [2326].

PCMs can moderate the thermal energy through the building envelope under various climate conditions thanks to their high potential of storing and releasing heat energy during phase transition. PCM can be mixed with construction materials in hot climates and act as a heat barrier against the heat coming from outdoor towards indoor to decrease the high cooling load concerns [27,28]. In contrast, they also can work as a heat supplier under cold climates, which decrease the heating loads [29,30].

Among many PCM types, paraffin has mostly adapted for many sectors, particularly in the building sector. PPCM is classified as an organic PCM with great flexibility in building applications than other PCM categories shown in Figure 1 [31]. Furthermore, their abundant accessibility with low cost and safe operation makes them an excellent option for many building energy advances.

This paper focuses on the potential of paraffin in the building envelope applications, the most widely used PCM in this regard. To reach that, a general outlook of paraffin types, their uses and applications were highlighted in the following section. The third section analyses and discusses the main thermal improvements earned from incorporating PPCM in buildings. Following that, the most spread techniques used to improve the poor thermal conductivity of PPCM are introduced dealing with the recent investigations in this area of research. Finally, several conclusions are drawn from the analysed studies and presented for further researches in the future.

thumbnail Fig. 1

Classification of PCMs [32].

2 Paraffin

2.1 General overview

Paraffin (also called alkane) is an organic, colourless, odourless and chemically based material derived mainly from petroleum waste products. Paraffin is a mixture of hydrocarbons and generally has a melting temperature ranged from sub-zero to above 100 °C [33]. Table 1 lists other common properties of paraffin.

Paraffins are mainly classified according to the number of carbon atoms in the crystal structure. Paraffin has a gaseous state under room conditions with 1–4 carbon atoms and is known as pure alkanes. Paraffin with 5–17 carbon atoms is usually in a liquid state at room temperature, and those with more than 17 are waxes. Solid waxes are a mixture of saturated hydrocarbons and are naturally linear, iso branched, or cycloalkanes [35]. Figure 2 shows the typical solid-state paraffin wax available in the local markets.

Table 1

General properties of paraffins [34].

thumbnail Fig. 2

Paraffin wax appearance.

2.2 Uses and applications of paraffin

Paraffins have been used in different sectors such as the commercial sector (candle-making, paintings, coatings, crayons, surf-waxes, etc.), medical sector (cosmetics, medical paths, therapy treatment) electrical sector (insulators, actuators, and thermostats) [36], mechanical sector (lubrication, fuels) [37]. They have been implemented successfully as PCMs in many heat energy storage-linked applications. Recently, PPCM is emerged with renewable energy applications to improve their utilisation. Specifically, they have been used in solar systems to store the heat and meet the heat supply mismatch and demand or release the heat from the solar system for better performance. Concisely, PPCMs are utilised in solar systems for the following benefits:

  • In solar storage tanks to prolong the time of heat for later use in solar heating [3843], solar domestic hot water [44], solar cooling and air-conditioning systems [4550].

  • To store solar heat to be used after sunset to extend water productivity in solar distillers [5155] and enhance solar drying and other solar systems [5659].

  • To improve the efficiency of solar thermal collectors such as solar air heaters [60], flat plate solar collectors [61], evacuated tube solar collectors [62] and concentrated solar collectors [63,64] after sunset.

  • To store and later release non-desired heat in photovoltaic/thermal systems working in hot weather conditions to enhance their efficiency [6570].

  • To manage the heat and improve the heat sink in electric and electronic devices [7174].

PPCM incorporated into the building envelope showed remarkable improvements by shaving and shifting the peak load and building energy and thermal comfort improvements.

Among the thermo-physical properties of PPCM, the melting temperature represents its key property in a specific application. Therefore, paraffin that has low and medium melting temperatures is preferred for building applications. Table 2 lists the main thermo-physical properties of different paraffin types that are suitable for building applications.

Table 2

Thermal properties of paraffin types suitable for building applications [75].

3 PPCM for building performance improvement

PPCMs have a great potential to improve building energy performance thanks to their high latent storage capacity and other desired characteristics. These improvements presented as cooling/heating load reduction, decrement of daily temperature fluctuations, thermal management of building elements, reduction of indoor surface temperatures, energy savings and thermal comfort improvement [16,76].

PPCM is commonly incorporated into building elements in different methods: direct mixing, impregnation, encapsulation, and shape-stabilised. In direct mixing and impregnation methods, PPCM is combined directly with the building materials such as concretes and mortars either by direct addition or immersing. However, in these methods, PPCM is suffering from leakage during the melting phase, which influences the compatibility of building elements. The encapsulation method has been introduced to solve leakage and enhance the thermal conductivity of PPCM. In this method, PPCM is contained in special covering material either at micro-size (micro-encapsulation) or larger (macro-encapsulation). In both encapsulation techniques, PPCM performs better and can be installed with building materials efficiently and safely [77]. The shape-stabilised method is the most advanced method where the PPCM includes an inside carrying matrix of stable shape during melting and solidification, which provides high thermal stability and cycle durability. The complexity of manufacturing and high cost are the main disadvantages of this method.

Researchers have investigated the potential of PPCM in building construction elements and reported remarkable advantages in building performance. Table 3 shows the main improvements of PPCM incorporated building envelope materials of various melting temperatures, incorporation methods and building applications.

Table 3

Thermal improvements of PPCM incorporated building envelope.

4 Enhancement techniques for PPCM poor thermal conductivity

PPCM has many preferred properties that make it an outstanding choice in building applications. The primary desired properties are (i) availability with low-cost, (ii) relatively high latent heat, (iii) no sub-cooling, (iv) non-toxic, (v) non-corrosive, (vi) eco-friendly, (vii) low volumetric change during phase transition and (viii) chemically stable with no segregation over long-term service [88,89]. Notwithstanding the exciting improvements of using PPCM in building elements, the poor thermal conductivity is the main limitation reported by the researchers in this regard. Moreover, like other PCMs, PPCMs are suffering from crystallisation over many rounds of melting/solidification. However, paraffins are stable materials, and the crystallisation phenomenon rarely occurs after many working cycles [90]. More details about paraffin crystallisation can be found in [91,92].

PPCMs are generally renowned for their poor thermal conductivity, which prolongs melting and solidification and impacts thermal performance. In general, the thermal conductivity of PPCMs can be enhanced using different methods such as dispersion of conductive nanoparticles, the addition of expanded graphite, using metallic foams and encapsulation with extended surface techniques (Fig. 3).

In recent years, nanoparticles (NPs) have been introduced as an effective technique to increase the thermal conductivity of the base fluid in many applications [24,93]. NPs can considerably improve the thermal conductivity and heat storage capacity of paraffin with no significant improvement in its melting temperature [94]. Researchers have deeply investigated the poor thermal conductivity of paraffin, and immersion of NPs is a superior technique in this regard [95]. Different NPs with various concentrations have been studied and indicated remarkable enhancement [96,97]. The main advantage of dispersing NPs with PPCMs is shortening heat charging/discharging time, which are the core of thermal energy storage systems [98]. Nevertheless, several limitations are reported, such as long-term degradation and optimal nano concentration to fulfil the desired properties, homogeneity issues/concerns, and cost consideration [99]. Preparation of PPCM-NPs is usually done using the same methods used to prepare nanofluids, such as sonication, magnetic stirrer, and so on [100,101]. However, stable PPCM-NPs is still one of the most challenging tasks, even in recent literature studies [102]. Figure 4 shows the main preparation steps of PPCM-NPs.

Expanded graphite (EG) is a novel technique used to enhance PPCM thermal conductivity. It is a worm-like network pore structure at a micrometric scale with high thermal conductivity, large volume and specific surface area [103]. EG is usually used as a supporting material for PPCM in which the thermal conductivity of PPCM increases as the mass fraction of EG increases [104]. Figure 5 shows the main steps followed to prepare PPCM-EG.

Metallic foam is another essential technique used to enhance the thermal conductivity of PPCM. What makes metallic foams a great option is their high porosity, stable thermo-physical properties, good mechanical strength and high thermal conductivity of base materials. Furthermore, their long term stability and low density are the superior advantages that make them preferable more than NPs [106]. In general, metallic foams' effectiveness depends on the type of foam material, pore size and pore density [107]. Incorporating as much as possible of PPCM inside metallic foam with no leakage is an important task. Therefore, the proper procedure should be followed to gain the best utilisation of PPCM storage capacity with maximum content (Fig. 6).

Encapsulation using finned containers (external and/or internal fins) can also significantly enhance the thermal conductivity of PPCM. This technique is an economical option and has shown notable enhancement using high thermal conductivity materials such as copper, aluminium and stainless steel. Using fins accelerate the melting and solidification processes, which shorten the time to reach the complete cycle. The thermal performance of PPCM is influenced by different parameters of fins such as their type, dimensions, spacing and number of fins [109,110]. Figure 7 shows the main shapes and designs of fins used for PPCM thermal conductivity enhancement purposes.

Many studies considering the enhancement of PPCM thermal conductivity are reported in the literature, and the recent ones are shown in detail in Table 4.

thumbnail Fig. 3

Techniques to enhance PPCM poor thermal conductivity.

thumbnail Fig. 4

Preparation procedure of NPs-PPCM [51].

thumbnail Fig. 5

PPCM-EG preparation steps [105].

thumbnail Fig. 6

Preparation steps of PPCM-metal foam [108].

thumbnail Fig. 7

Different types of finned encapsulation containers [111].

Table 4

PPCM thermal conductivity improvements.

5 Conclusion

This paper introduced PPCM as an advanced solution to improve buildings' thermal energy, which showed exciting results. PPCM has shown a bright potential in the building industry thanks to their availability worldwide and desired properties. Several conclusions can be drawn from the analysed studies, as follows:

  • PPCM can effectively improve the energy of building under different locations for heating and cooling purposes. Further, PPCMs have a wealth future in building applications mainly because of their low cost, a vast range of latent heat storage capacity, and high flexibility to incorporate different methods and techniques.

  • The poor thermal conductivity represents the main drawback of PPCM, which results in incomplete charging/discharging phases and significantly influences the building's thermal performance.

  • Among other enhancement technologies, the dispersion of NPs is the most booming technology nowadays, which can enormously enhance the thermal properties of PPCM. Investigating new NPs and their optimal concentrations in PPCM are still under research.

  • Despite the limited amount of PPCM allowed to avoid leakage, EG is an excellent technique to enhance its thermal conductivity. However, few investigations with building applications can be found in the literature.

  • The inserting of metallic foams is a competitive option against NPs to enhance PPCM thermal conductivity. Nonetheless, these foams are limited to a few materials such as aluminium, nickel, and copper; hence, investigating new materials is still out of view.

  • Fins are a crucial and economical option that can positively influence the melting/solidification time of PPCM. Some studies reported significant results mostly done numerically. More experimental studies are required to specify the optimal parameters (material type, shape, number, etc.).

  • The combination of more than one enhancer, for instance, fins and NPs, seems to be the best option in this regard. However, system complexity and economic feasibility should be considered accordingly.

  • Other enhancers of PPCM thermal conductivity are required in future researches considering the cost, performance improvement and ease of incorporation.

Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the Stipendium Hungaricum Scholarship Programme and the Mechanical Engineering Doctoral School, Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Gödöllő campus, Hungary.

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Cite this article as: Qudama Al-Yasiri, Márta Szabó, Paraffin As a Phase Change Material to Improve Building Performance: An Overview of Applications and Thermal Conductivity Enhancement Techniques, Renew. Energy Environ. Sustain. 6, 38 (2021)

All Tables

Table 1

General properties of paraffins [34].

Table 2

Thermal properties of paraffin types suitable for building applications [75].

Table 3

Thermal improvements of PPCM incorporated building envelope.

Table 4

PPCM thermal conductivity improvements.

All Figures

thumbnail Fig. 1

Classification of PCMs [32].

In the text
thumbnail Fig. 2

Paraffin wax appearance.

In the text
thumbnail Fig. 3

Techniques to enhance PPCM poor thermal conductivity.

In the text
thumbnail Fig. 4

Preparation procedure of NPs-PPCM [51].

In the text
thumbnail Fig. 5

PPCM-EG preparation steps [105].

In the text
thumbnail Fig. 6

Preparation steps of PPCM-metal foam [108].

In the text
thumbnail Fig. 7

Different types of finned encapsulation containers [111].

In the text

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