Investigation of heat dissipation enhancement due to backfill modification in ground coupled heat pump systems
Due to the lack of understanding of soil thermal behavior, rules-of-thumb and generalized procedures are typically used to guide building professionals in the design of ground coupled heat pump systems. This is especially true when sizing the ground heat exchanger (GHE) loop. Unfortunately, these generalized procedures often encourage building engineers to adopt a conservative design approach resulting in the gross over-sizing of the GHE, thus drastically increasing their installation cost. This conservative design approach is particularly prevalent for buildings located in hot and arid climates, where the soils are often granular and where the water table tends to exist deep below the soil surface. These adverse soil conditions reduce the heat dissipation efficiency of the GHE and have hindered the adoption of ground coupled heat pump systems in such climates. During cooling mode operation, heat is extracted from the building and rejected into the ground via the GHE. Prolonged heat dissipation into the ground can result in a coupled flow of both heat and moisture, causing the moisture to migrate away from the GHE piping. This coupled flow phenomenon causes the soil near the GHE to dry out and results in the degradation of the GHE heat dissipation capacity. Although relatively simple techniques of backfilling the GHE have been used in practice to mitigate such coupled effects, methods of improving the thermal behavior of the backfill region around the GHE, especially in horizontal systems, have not been extensively studied. This thesis presents an experimental study of heat dissipation from a horizontal GHE, buried in two backfill materials: (1) dry sand, and (2) wax-sand composite mixture. The HYDRUS software was then used to numerically model the temperature profiles associated with the aforementioned backfill conditions, and the influence of the contact resistance at the GHE-backfill interface was studied. The modeling strategy developed in HYDRUS was proven to be adequate in predicting the thermal performance of GHE buried in dry sand. However, when predicting the GHE heat dissipation in the wax-sand backfill, significant discrepancies between model prediction and experimental results still exist even after calibrating the model by including a term for the contact resistance. Overall, the thermal properties of the backfill were determined to be a key determinant of the GHE heat dissipation capacity. In particular, the wax-sand backfill was estimated to dissipate 50-60% more heat than dry sand backfill.