Title:
MODULAR THERMAL RADIATION HEATING SYSTEM
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A thermal heating system, apparatus and method for heating a fluid using thermal radiation, for example, solar thermal radiation. The thermal heating apparatus includes a tank containing a fluid, a plurality of thermal units arranged in a panel and connected to the tank, and a frame supporting the tank and the thermal units. The thermal units may comprise a heat pipe that is receivable within a tube protruding into the tank. The tube may be formed directly with the tank or provided as a separate piece. The thermal units may also include a thermal casing that encapsulates the heat pipe, for example in a vacuum. Providing a thermal heating apparatus as described may allow collection and transfer of thermal energy to a fluid in the tank. The heated fluid may then be circulated for use in other parts of a thermal heating system.



Inventors:
Han, Chong (Alliston, CA)
Application Number:
11/782366
Publication Date:
02/28/2008
Filing Date:
07/24/2007
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F24S10/95
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20020005194COOKING GRILL WITH ANTIMICROBIAL AGENTJanuary, 2002Trogolo et al.
20080223266Wood fired boilerSeptember, 2008Brazier et al.
20090044794Inducer speed control method for combustion furnaceFebruary, 2009Hugghins et al.
20090205633SIMULATED FIRE GLOW LIGHTS FOR FIREPLACEAugust, 2009Hussong et al.
20090223507Low-emission fireplace assemblySeptember, 2009Bibaud et al.
20040182382Automatic cleaning device for kitchen ventilatorSeptember, 2004Chang
20070101988Fireaqua ScreenMay, 2007Bingham et al.
20080216817Charbroiler with Even Heat DistributionSeptember, 2008Yungbluth
20100018522Tube collector with variable thermal conductivity of the coaxial tubeJanuary, 2010Schedletzky
20090013992Cover for an object using solar radiationJanuary, 2009Sonneveld
20030041851Conveyor oven having a removable front coverMarch, 2003Kingdon et al.



Primary Examiner:
PEREIRO, JORGE ANDRES
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Bereskin, And Parr (40 KING STREET WEST, BOX 401, TORONTO, ON, M5H 3Y2, CA)
Claims:
1. An apparatus for collecting thermal radiation, the apparatus comprising: a) a tank having an interior surface defining a volume that contains a fluid, the tank having an aperture therein, b) a tube having an open end and a closed end, the tube being joined to the tank such that open end registers with the aperture in the tank and the closed end is located within the volume of the tank, and c) a heat pipe comprising a top end insertable into the open end of the tube such that a portion of the heat pipe is exposed to incident thermal radiation, wherein the incident thermal radiation is transferred from the heat pipe to the fluid in the tank.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the tube is formed integrally with the tank.

3. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the tube is welded to the tank.

4. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising a conductive sleeve comprising an inner surface and an outer surface, wherein the sleeve can slide over the heat pipe when the heat pipe is inserted into the tube such that the inner surface is in contact with an external surface of the heat pipe and, the outer surface is in contact with an internal surface of the tube.

5. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising a thermal casing encapsulating the heat pipe such that a vacuum is formed between the thermal casing, the tank, and the tube, wherein the incident thermal radiation travels through the thermal casing, through the vacuum and to the heat pipe.

6. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising: a) a piping system fluidly connected to the tank, b) a pump connected to the piping system, c) a pump controller in communication with the pump, wherein the pump controller can turn the pump on to circulate fluid through the tank and the piping system.

7. The apparatus of claim 6, further comprising a temperature sensor in temperature measuring relation to the fluid within the tank and in communication with the pump controller, wherein a signal from the temperature sensor can turn the pump on.

8. The apparatus of claim 6, further comprising a boiler connected to the piping system, wherein the boiler is piped in parallel with the tank.

9. An apparatus for collecting thermal radiation, the apparatus comprising: a) a tank having a volume that contains a fluid, b) a tube having an open end, the tube being joined to the tank so as to be in heat transfer communication with the fluid in the tank, c) a heat pipe comprising a top end insertable into the open end of the tube such that a portion of the heat pipe is exposed to incident thermal radiation, wherein the incident thermal radiation is transferred from the heat pipe to the fluid in the tank, and d) a thermal casing encapsulating the heat pipe such that a vacuum is formed between the thermal casing, the tank, and the tube, wherein the incident thermal radiation travels through the thermal casing, through the vacuum and to the heat pipe.

10. The apparatus of claim 9, further comprising a) a frame supporting the tank at an upper portion of the frame and supporting the thermal casing at a lower portion of the frame, and b) a tilt assembly affixed to the frame, such that the tilt assembly tilts the frame to orientate the apparatus with respect to thermal radiation.

11. The apparatus of claim 10, further comprising a tilt controller in communication with the tilt assembly to automatically tilt the frame based on a predetermined factor.

12. The apparatus of claim 9, further comprising a frame supporting the tank at an upper portion of the frame comprising a quick release holder connected to a lower portion of the frame, the quick release holder releasably supporting the thermal casing.

13. The apparatus of claim 9, wherein the tube has a second end opposite the open end, the second end abutting an exterior surface of the tank.

14. The apparatus of claim 13, wherein the tube is part of a tee coupling having a main conduit and a branch protruding from the main conduit at an angle, wherein the branch forms the tube, which extends from the second end to the open end, and wherein the tank has a cylindrical shell such that the main conduit can slide over the shell.

15. An apparatus for collecting thermal radiation, the apparatus comprising: a) a tank having a volume that contains a fluid, b) a tube having an open end, and a second end opposite the open end that abuts to the tank, and c) a heat pipe comprising a top end insertable into the open end of the tube such that a portion of the heat pipe is exposed to incident thermal radiation, wherein the incident thermal radiation is transferred from the heat pipe to the fluid in the tank.

16. The apparatus of claim 15, wherein thermal energy from the incident thermal radiation conducts from the top end of the heat pipe, and through the tank before the thermal energy is transferred to the fluid.

17. The apparatus of claim 15, wherein the tube is part of a tee coupling having a main conduit and a branch protruding from the main conduit at an angle, wherein the branch forms the tube, which extends from the second end to the open end, and wherein the tank has a cylindrical shell such that the main conduit can slide over the shell.

18. The apparatus of claim 17, wherein the tee coupling is soldered to the shell.

19. The apparatus of claim 15, further comprising a thermal casing encapsulating the heat pipe such that a vacuum is formed between the thermal casing, the tank, and the tube, wherein the incident thermal radiation travels through the thermal casing, through the vacuum and to the heat pipe.

Description:

This application claims the benefit of Provisional Application No. 60/820,153, filed Jul. 24, 2006, which is incorporated herein by reference.

FIELD

The teaching disclosed herein relates generally to the field of thermal radiation systems, and more particularly, to systems and methods for heating fluids using solar thermal radiation.

BACKGROUND

Passive energy systems that collect, store and redistribute energy from renewable sources are receiving more attention due to rising energy prices. One source of rising energy prices is a tiered pricing scheme where energy costs rise with demand. For example, energy costs can rise during peak consumption periods to encourage energy conservation. During peak consumption periods, conventional passive energy systems, such as solar heating systems, can be used in an attempt to supplement power grids with extra energy from renewable energy sources, such as solar radiation. Accordingly, extra energy from passive solar systems may help to reduce energy costs during peak consumption periods.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,505,261, discloses a modular passive solar energy storage system comprising a plurality of heat pipes arranged to form a flat plate solar collector. The heat pipes can be releasably connected to a water reservoir by double-walled heat exchangers that may be provided as a part of the heat pipes. The double walled heat exchangers penetrate into the water reservoir and enhance the heat transfer characteristics between the collector and the reservoir. The flat plate collector-heat exchanger assembly, the collector housing, and the reservoir are integrated into a relatively lightweight, unitary structural system in which the reservoir is a primary structural element.

In U.S. Pat. No. 4,505,261, heat losses from the heat pipes to surroundings via conduction and convection losses can reduce the efficiency of the system. Standard insulation may be applied to surfaces of the heat pipes to reduce such losses, but the insulation can also reduce thermal radiation collection. When using insulation, it can be difficult to balance energy collection and losses in an effort to raise overall system efficiency.

Conventional solar heating systems collect solar energy during daytime hours when sunrays are incident on the collector surface. This collection period does not necessarily correspond to the peak consumption period of electricity or the higher energy prices described above. During daytime periods the solar heating system may augment the power grid, but the system can provide no benefit during peak usage hours that may occur during the night time.

At present, solar heating systems are generally utilized in warmer climates where collectors can be mounted to rooftops in order to improve collection efficiencies. In colder climates that experience snowstorms, snow can accumulate on top of rooftop mounted solar collectors. The accumulated snow can reflect at least a portion of the incident solar thermal radiation that is directed at the rooftop mounted solar collector, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the solar heating system.

Solar heating systems are also generally positioned in open areas to increase the time period that the solar heating system is exposed to solar radiation, and reduce the time period that the solar heating system is in the shade. In the case of residential applications, these open areas may correspond to high traffic areas, such as play areas for children. In such areas, the solar heating system may be jarred, and possibly damaged. If the collector or heat pipes are damaged, the solar heating system may require repairs, which can be costly.

Damage to the solar heating system also represents an environmental issue. Heat pipes utilize a vaporizable fluid to achieve an evaporation and condensation cycle that typically enhances heat transfer. Unfortunately, the vaporizable fluid can be toxic, for example, such as in the case of refrigerants. If the heat pipe is damaged, the vaporizable fluid may be released to the surrounding environment, which may be a serious problem. For example, the release of refrigerants may contribute to the continuing accumulation of green house gases in the atmosphere, which is recognized as a global problem.

In order for conventional solar heating systems to operate at peak efficiency, heat pipes and other heat transferring portions of the solar heating system should be clean and free from defects. Accordingly, periodic maintenance and inspection of the solar heating system may be necessary. If a part of the system is damaged, either the damaged part or the entire system may require replacement. In some cases, replacing the single damaged part would be more cost effective than replacing the entire system, however, conventional systems generally have unitary designs that make individual replacement of parts difficult.

In view of the above-mentioned problems, and others that will become apparent, there is a need for an improved thermal radiation heating apparatus, system, and method.

SUMMARY

The following summary is intended to introduce the reader to this specification but not to define any invention. In general, this specification discusses one or more methods or apparatuses related to an excavation apparatus.

According to one example, there is provided an apparatus for collecting thermal radiation. The apparatus comprises a tank defining a volume containing a fluid, a tube extending from an interior wall of the tank and into the volume, and a heat pipe containing a vaporizable fluid. The heat pipe allows transfer of incident thermal radiation to the fluid in the tank through a top end of the heat pipe that is receivable in the tube.

According to another example, there is provided an apparatus comprising a tank defining a volume containing a fluid, a tube protruding into the volume of the tank, a heat pipe containing a vaporizable fluid, and a thermal casing encapsulating the heat pipe. The thermal casing forms a vacuum between the thermal casing, tank, and tube, such that incident thermal radiation on the thermal casing passes through the vacuum and to the heat pipe. The heat pipe can transfer the incident thermal radiation to the fluid in the tank through a top end of the heat pipe that is receivable in the tube.

According to another example, there is provided a method of heating a fluid using an apparatus configured to collect thermal radiation. The apparatus comprises a tank defining a volume, a tube protruding into the volume of the tank, and a heat pipe containing a vaporizable fluid. The heat pipe comprises a top end receivable in the tube. The method includes: orienting the apparatus in a path of thermal radiation such that the vaporizable fluid in the heat pipe can temporarily store energy from incident thermal radiation as thermal energy; receiving a fluid in the volume of the tank; transferring thermal energy from the vaporizable fluid to the fluid through the tube in order to raise the temperature of the fluid; and circulating the fluid through the tank using a pump. The pump being configured to pump fluid when the temperature of the fluid reaches a predetermined value.

Other aspects and features of the present specification will become apparent, to those ordinarily skilled in the art, upon review of the following description of the specific examples of the specification.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The drawings included herewith are for illustrating various examples of articles, methods, and apparatuses of the present specification and are not intended to limit the scope of what is taught in any way. In the drawings:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a thermal heating apparatus including a tank connected to a plurality of thermal units;

FIG. 2 is an exploded cross-sectional view of one of the thermal units shown in FIG. 1 being attached to the tank;

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of a back support for a thermal heating apparatus;

FIG. 4 is a close-up perspective view of the thermal heating apparatus of FIG. 1 showing quick release supports upholding the thermal units;

FIG. 5 is a schematic flow diagram of a thermal heating system including a thermal heating apparatus having a first tank, a second tank, and a heat exchanger connected together through a household water piping system;

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of a plurality of modular thermal heating apparatuses that are connected to form a thermal heating system, one of the thermal heating apparatuses being shown as connectable to the thermal heating system;

FIG. 7 is a perspective view of a wind dispersion structure attached a thermal heating apparatus;

FIG. 8a is an exploded cross-sectional view of a thermal unit being attached to a tank via a tee coupling;

FIG. 8b is a perspective view of the example shown in FIG. 8a;

FIG. 8c is an exploded cross-sectional view of a thermal unit being attached to a tank via a tube extending from a bracket;

FIG. 8d is a perspective view of the example shown in FIG. 8c;

FIG. 8e is an exploded cross-sectional view of a thermal unit being attached to a tank via a tube joined to the tank; and

FIG. 8f is a perspective view of the example shown in FIG. 8e.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Various apparatuses or processes will be described below to provide an example of an embodiment of each claimed invention. No embodiment described below limits any claimed invention and any claimed invention may cover processes or apparatuses that are not described below. The claimed inventions are not limited to apparatuses or processes having all of the features of any one apparatus or process described below or to features common to multiple or all of the apparatuses described below. It is possible that an apparatus or process described below is not an embodiment of any claimed invention. The applicants, inventors or owners reserve all rights that they may have in any invention disclosed in an apparatus or process described below that is not claimed in this document, for example the right to claim such an invention in a continuing application and do not intend to abandon, disclaim or dedicate to the public any such invention by its disclosure in this document.

Referring now to FIG. 1, illustrated therein is a thermal heating apparatus 10. The thermal heating apparatus 10 comprising a tank 12 containing a fluid, a plurality of thermal units 14 arranged in a panel and connected to the tank 12, and a frame 16 supporting the tank 12 and the thermal units 14. Incident thermal radiation, for example, solar thermal energy, is collected by the thermal units 14 and is transmitted as thermal energy to heat the fluid in the tank 12. The heated fluid may then be used in a thermal heating system.

As illustrated, tank 12 can be cylindrical having a circumferential shell 12a enclosed by two sidewalls 12b at the ends of the shell 12a. The interior surface of the shell 12a and two sidewalls 12b defines a volume containing the fluid. The fluid may be any gas or liquid, and in the present example, the fluid is water supplied from a household piping system. The water enters and exits tank 12 through pipes 13 that extend outward from sidewalls 12b. Pipes 13 may include flexible attachments that allow interconnection of tank 12 with an existing household piping system. Tank 12 may be made from metals, plastics or other compounds. In some examples, the tank 12 may be different shapes, such as rectangular, which may, for example, provide a better fit within frame 16.

Referring to the example illustrated in FIG. 2, tank 12 may include insulation 12c wrapped around the shell 12a. Insulation may include foam, plastic or other low-conductivity materials. In some examples, the insulation may be covered with another shell similar to shell 12a.

Referring again to FIG. 2, illustrated therein is an exploded cross-sectional view of one of the thermal units 14 and the tank 12. Thermal unit 14 comprises a heat pipe 20. The thermal unit may also comprise a sleeve 22 fitted over the heat pipe 20, and a thermal casing 24 encapsulating the heat pipe 20 and the sleeve 22.

As illustrated, heat pipe 20 can be tubular, having two closed ends, defining a hollow interior cavity containing a vaporizable fluid. Vaporizable fluids may include, for example, refrigerant, water, alcohol or other fluids that vaporize and condense under typical operating conditions of the thermal heating apparatus 10. The vaporizable fluid can be sealed within heat pipe 20 so as to prevent leakage of potentially harmful toxins. To improve heat transfer from the heat pipe 20 to the tank 12, the heat pipe can be made from a conductive material, such as copper or aluminum.

Heat pipe 20 connects to tank 12 by inserting the heat pipe into a tube 30 such that a portion of the heat pipe 20 remains exposed to thermal radiation outside the tube 30. As illustrated, the tube 30 may protrude into the volume of tank 12 through an aperture on the tank. In particular, heat pipe 20 has a top end 20a that can slide into an open end of the tube 30. The opposite end of the tube has a closed end located within the volume of the tank 12 such that a portion of heat pipe 20 can be located radially within the volume of the tank 12. The tube 30 is generally made from a conductive material, for example, steel or aluminum. Accordingly, the cylindrical outer surface of the tube 30 contacts the water in tank 12. The tube 30 can be formed integrally with the tank 12, or it may be provided as a separate piece that is weldable to the tank 12.

In some examples, such as illustrated in FIGS. 8a-8f, tube 30 may extend radially outward from tank 12 and may not include a portion that protrudes into the volume of tank 12. In these examples, a second end of tube 30 (i.e. the closed end) may abut against and join to the exterior surface of the shell 12a. Since the tank 12 covers the second end, the second end may be open ended or close ended. The heat pipe 20 may be inserted through the open end and into the tube 30 such that top end 20a contacts the second end of the tube 30 and/or the exterior surface of the shell 12a. The contact between top portion 20a, the second end of tube 30, and/or the exterior surface of shell 12a allows heat transfer between the vaporizable fluid in heat pipe 20 and the water in tank 12. In particular, heat conducts from the heat pipe and through the tank before thermal energy from the incident thermal radiation is transferred to the fluid within the tank. Examples of this connection will be described in further detail below with respect to FIGS. 8a-8f.

As shown, sleeve 22 can be a tube having open ends, an inside surface, and an outside surface. The sleeve can slide over the top end 20a of heat pipe 20 such that the inside surface contacts the heat pipe, and the outside surface contacts the tube. The radial thickness of the sleeve 22 effectively increases the diameter of heat pipe 20 to provide a tighter fit between the exterior surface of heat pipe 20 and the interior surface of tube 30. Sleeve 22 is generally made from a conductive material, such as copper or aluminum. Accordingly, sleeve 22 can improve conduction between heat pipe 20 and tube 30. In some examples, there may be no sleeve and the outer surface of heat pipe 20 may directly contact the interior surface of tube 30.

Thermal casing 24 may be tubular in shape, and may have having a closed-end 24a and an open-end 24b. Thermal casing 24 can be made from glass, polycarbonate, plastics, or other materials that are translucent or transparent to thermal radiation. Open-end 24b can be sealed against tank 12 using a seal 32, which may encapsulate heat pipe 20 and sleeve 22 within the thermal casing. Seal 32 can be an o-ring, a sealing compound or another suitable device for sealing thermal casing 24 to tank 12. As illustrated, a vacuum seal can be created between thermal casing 24 and tank 12 to define a vacuum chamber 34 within thermal casing 24. Vacuum chamber 34 can provide various benefits, for example, improving heat transfer efficiency and providing a safety system for vaporizable fluid leaks.

Vacuum chamber 34 can improve heat transfer by reducing conduction and convection loses from the heat pipe to the surroundings. As known by a skilled person in the art, a pure vacuum cannot conduct heat, and there is no fluid in a pure vacuum for convection. As such, radiation heat transfer is the only thermal energy exchange phenomena known to transfer heat through a vacuum. Accordingly, vacuum chamber 34 can reduce the amount of thermal losses from heat pipe 20 to the surroundings by reducing conduction and convection losses. Reducing losses in this manner can allow more energy to be transferred to the water in tank 12.

Vacuum chamber 34 can also provide a redundant safety system for vaporizable fluid leaks. In previous systems, vaporizable fluid leaks were shielded from the water within the tank 12 as a safety measure, however, vaporizable fluid could still escape to the surrounding environment. As previously mentioned, the release of vaporizable fluids, such as refrigerants, can pose an environmental problem. Accordingly, it may be desirable to prevent the release of vaporizable fluid into the tank 12, and also prevent the release of vaporizable fluid into the surrounding environment. Vacuum chamber 34 can reduce both types of releases by providing a secondary chamber for containing vaporizable fluid in the event of a leak in heat pipe 20. If vaporizable fluid leaks from the heat pipe, and if the thermal casing 14 is sufficiently sealed to the tank 12, the walls of the thermal casing 14 can contain the vaporizable fluid to prevent a release of vaporizable fluid to the surrounding environment.

Even though benefits of vacuum chamber 34 have been described with reference to a perfect vacuum, an imperfect vacuum may provide similar benefits to those described above, but possibly to a lesser extent. In some examples, vacuum chamber 34 may be filled with a substance that provides alternative benefits.

In some examples, there may be a protective coating (not shown) on the exterior or interior surface of thermal casing 24. The protective coating may be made from plastics that are formable and impact resistant while being transparent or translucent to solar thermal radiation. For example, the coating may be made from polyethylene or polypropylene. In general, the coating is made from a thin, but tough material. The protective coating may also wrap around a portion of the thermal casing 24 to provide an additional layer of material that can prevent leakage of vaporizable fluids in the event that that thermal casing 24 breaks. The protective coating may also prevent broken fragments from spreading in the event that the thermal casing 24 breaks. In some examples, a barrier may be provided over thermal units 14 to provide similar benefits to the protective coating.

In operation, incident thermal radiation impinges thermal unit 14 and is absorbed by heat pipe 20. If vacuum chamber 34 is present, thermal radiation passes through the vacuum and is absorbed by heat pipe 20. As heat pipe 20 heats up, the vaporizable fluid in heat pipe 20 evaporates and rises upward to top end 20a where the vaporizable fluid condenses. Condensation releases thermal energy from the vaporizable fluid in the heat pipe that is at least partially absorbed by the water within tank 12. Thermal energy can be conducted to the water through the walls of heat pipe 20, through sleeve 22, and through tube 30. Convection and radiation processes may also transfer thermal energy to the water in similar fashions.

After the vaporizable fluid condenses, it falls to the bottom of heat pipe 20 by gravitational forces and the process restarts. As the process progresses, the water in tank 12 accumulates thermal energy, thereby raising the temperature of the water. A thermometer (not shown) may be provided on the outer casing of the tank 12, to display the temperature of the water within the tank 12.

Referring again to FIG. 1, frame 16 will be described in greater detail. Frame 16 includes a back plate 40, a tank support 42, and a plurality of thermal unit supports 44.

Back plate 40 can be a rectangular plate made from a metal, plastic or another rigid material. Back plate 40 functions as a base for other members and supporting elements of frame 16. Back plate 40 may include a mounting bracket (not shown) for attachment of the thermal heating apparatus 10 to a wall of a building. The mounting bracket may allow interconnection of a plurality of thermal heating apparatuses 10 in side-by-side fashion to provide a modular thermal heating system, such as the modular thermal heating system shown in FIG. 6. The modular thermal heating system allows interconnection of modules to create a large thermal heating system, that may for example, cover an entire wall of a building. In such cases, the modular solar heating system may physically replace a wall and can provide insulation to the building in addition to providing energy from thermal radiation. When using a modular thermal heating system, pipes 13 of interconnected modules may be connected together using pipefiftings (not shown). The modules themselves may connect together using interlock mechanisms (not shown), such as for example, snap fittings, or nuts and bolts. Modularity allows expansion of the thermal system, for example to accommodate greater energy demands.

Tank support 42 attaches to the top portion of back plate 40 using, for example, weldments or fasteners. In some examples, tank support 42 may be integrally formed as part of the frame 16. As illustrated, tank support 42 can be made of flat plates having apertures that receive pipes 13 on either side of tank 12. In this manner, the material around the apertures of tank support 42 bear the weight of tank 12 through pipes 13.

Thermal unit supports 44 may include a back support 46, a front clip 47, and bottom supports 48. Back support 46 rests between thermal units 14 and back plate 40. Referring to FIG. 3, back support 46 may have semi-circular channels 50 with shapes corresponding to the external surface of thermal units 14. Channels 50 can restrain thermal units 14 in side-to-side and backwards motion. Back support 46 may be made from foam, plastic or other materials. If made from a low-conductivity material, such as foam insulation, the back support 46 may reduce heat losses from the back portions of thermal units 14 to the surroundings and can thereby improve the overall efficiency of the thermal heating apparatus. Foam insulation and similar materials may also provide shock protection for the thermal units 14.

The top surface of the back support 46 that faces the backside of the thermal units 14 may include a reflector (not shown), such as a reflective coating or cover. The reflector may be made of, for example, aluminum, chrome, or another material that reflects solar thermal radiation. The reflector generally follows the shape of the back support 46, having concave recesses that face the thermal units 14. The focal point of the concave recesses should be generally directed to a respective thermal unit so as to reflect thermal radiation off the reflector to the thermal unit 14. The placement of the reflector behind the thermal units 14 improves solar collection efficiency by allowing the thermal units to capture solar thermal radiation that may otherwise pass between thermal units 14 uncollected. In operation, solar thermal radiation that passes between the thermal units impinges and reflects off the reflective surface where it can then be collected on the backside of the thermal units 14. Providing a reflector can make better use of the thermal units by effectively increasing the thermal radiation collection area of the thermal units.

Front clip 47 overlies thermal units 14 on the opposite side as to back support 46. Front clip 47 attaches to frame 16 by snap fittings, friction, setscrews or another fastener. Front clip 47 compliments back support 46 to reduce lateral and transverse movement of thermal units 14. The shape of the front clips 47 may include channels corresponding to thermal units 14, similar to those of back supports 46. The front clips may also include foam padding to reduce vibrations and thermal losses as described above.

Referring now to FIG. 4, illustrated therein is a close-up view of bottom supports 48 holding thermal units 14 in an upward position. Bottom supports 48 may include channels, similar to semi-circular channels 50, in order to provide a snug fit with the bottom surface of thermal units 14. Bottom supports 48 may also include foam portions to reduce vibrations and thermal losses as described above.

As illustrated, bottom supports 48 may be quick release holders, which can allow easy installation and removal of thermal units 14. Quick release holders 48 have a pivot aperture with a pin 52 extending through the pivot aperture thereby allowing the quick release holder 48 to pivot up and down. Quick release holders 48 also include a latch mechanism 54 that can hold thermal units 14 in an upward position. As shown, the latch mechanism 54 may include a guide pin, and a spring that encircles the guide pin in a helical fashion. The spring extends from a bottom surface of the quick release holder 48 to a top surface of the frame 16. The guide pin extends upward from the top surface of the frame 16 and is received within an aperture of the quick release holder 48. Accordingly, the guide pin may restrict motion of the quick release holder 48 to motion along the longitudinal axis of the guide pin. In other examples, the guide pin may extend downward from the bottom surface of the quick release holder 48 and may be received within an aperture of the frame 16.

In general, the latch mechanism 54 actuates by depressing, for example, a handle 56 of the quick release mechanism 48. Upon depressing the handle 56, the spring of the latch mechanism 54 compresses and allows the quick release mechanism 48 to pivot downward about pin 52. While depressed, the thermal unit 14 may be removed from the thermal apparatus. Upon releasing the handle portion 56, the spring of the latch mechanism 54 expands and the quick release mechanism 48 pivots upward about pin 52. If there is a thermal unit 14 positioned above the quick release mechanism 48, the spring exerts an upward force on the thermal unit 14, thereby retaining the thermal unit 14 in place. In some examples, the latch mechanism 54 may include a locking mechanism, such as a retaining pin or hook.

As illustrated in FIG. 6, frame 16 may also include cross-members 58 and other structural members to enhance the rigidity of the structure. In particular, cross-members 58 add rigidity to the frame 16 near latch mechanisms 54. Such members may be placed throughout the frame 16 in locations that limit the impact the members have on other aspects of the thermal apparatus 10, for example, thermal efficiency and modularity.

In some examples, frame 16 may include a supporting rod (not shown) that reduces the chance that the thermal heating apparatus 10 may fall over. The supporting rod may rest between frame 16 and a foundation, or the supporting rod may be rigidly attached to frame 16 and a foundation. Attaching the supporting rod to frame 16 above the center of gravity of the thermal heating apparatus 10 can improve stability of the thermal heating apparatus 10.

In some examples, frame 16 may include a tilt assembly (not shown). The tilt assembly allows horizontal and lateral reorientation of thermal heating apparatus 10, for example, to receive greater amounts of thermal radiation from sources, such as the sun based on time of day, season, or other factors. The tilt assembly may be manually controlled, or automatically controlled via communication with a tilt controller, such as a micro-controller, a wireless remote controller, a computing device, or another controlling device.

An example of a tilt assembly may include a telescoping supporting rod (not shown) connected to back plate 40 and a foundation. The telescoping supporting rod is typically inclined relative to back plate 40 and the foundation such that extension or retraction of the telescoping support rod changes the angle of the back plate 40 relative to the foundation. The telescoping support rod may extend and retract using, for example, screw threading, hydraulics or other devices. The telescoping support rod may include graduations that indicate suggested inclinations for different applications, for example, for different parts of the day or for different seasons of the year. The graduations may differ depending on geographic location of the thermal heating apparatus 10.

Referring now to FIG. 7, in some examples, frame 16 may include an adjustable wind dispersion structure 59 to reduce possible damage to the thermal heating apparatus in windy environments. As illustrated, wind dispersion structure 59 effectively covers the front of thermal heating apparatus 10. Accordingly wind dispersion structure 59 is made of a transparent or translucent material such that solar thermal radiation may pass through wind dispersion structure 59 and be captured by thermal units 14. In some examples, wind dispersion structure 59 may be placed on other portions of thermal heating apparatus 10, for example the backside thereof. In such cases, it may be less appropriate to provide a transparent or translucent wind dispersion structure 59. Wind dispersion structure 59 has a construction that provides is intended to provide sufficient rigidity to divert wind away from the thermal heating apparatus 10. In view of these considerations, wind dispersion structure 59 may be made from plastics such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polycarbonate, glass, and other similar materials.

Adjustable wind dispersion structure 59 may also include mechanized fairings or streamlined shapes (not shown) to divert wind away from the thermal units depending on which direction the wind is blowing from. In such cases, the mechanized fairings may be manually adjusted or adjustable wind dispersion structure 59 may include an automatic controller (not shown), similar to the tilt controller described previously, but configured to automatically adjusting the mechanized fairings. In some examples, frame 16 may include additional fairings or devices to reduce other weather effects that adversely affect the operation of thermal heating apparatus 10. For example, the thermal apparatus may include coverings to reduce the build up of snow on thermal heating apparatus 10.

In some examples, frame 16 may include wheels (not shown) that can provide mobility to thermal heating apparatus 10. The wheels may ease installation or repositioning of thermal heating apparatus 10. The wheels may also augment the tilt assembly to provide additional degrees of freedom for positioning the thermal heating apparatus. The wheels may also be removable to allow secure and rigid attachment of the thermal heating apparatus to a foundation.

In some examples, thermal heating apparatus 10 may include an adjustable cover (not shown) that may be pulled up or down to protect the thermal units 14. The cover can be made of a resilient material that is either transparent or translucent to solar thermal radiation, such as polycarbonate, polymethyl methacrylate, tempered glass (i.e. borosilicate glass), or another similar material. As indicated, the cover is adjustable so that either all, a portion, or none of the thermal units 14 are protected. Accordingly, the adjustable cover can cover thermal units 14 only when there is a risk of damage to the thermal units 14, for example while children are playing near the thermal heating apparatus 10. It is notable that when the adjustable cover overlies even a portion of at least one of the thermal units 14, the adjustable cover may absorb or reflect rays of solar thermal radiation, thereby reducing the collector efficiency of the thermal heating apparatus. However, providing an adjustable cover can allow protection of portions of the thermal units 14 that may be in danger of being damaged, while alternatively allowing unimpeded collection of solar radiation using the remaining portions of the thermal units 14.

To power devices such as the tilt assembly, the mechanized fairings, the controllers and other components of thermal heating apparatus 10, a power outlet may be provided for connection to an electrical power grid. In such examples, the power outlet may include weatherized seals and covers to reduce damage to the power outlet and other circuitry of thermal heating apparatus 10. In examples including a plurality of modular thermal heating apparatuses, each module may include a power outlet that electrically connects with other modules.

Referring now to FIG. 5, illustrated therein is a thermal heating system 60. Thermal heating system 60 comprises a thermal heating apparatus 62 having a first tank 64, a second tank 66, a circulation pump 68 and a piping system 70 fluidly interconnecting the first tank 64, the second tank 66, and the circulation pump 68.

Thermal heating apparatus 62 can be similar to thermal heating apparatus 10, however, other thermal heating apparatuses, including additional examples described herein, may be used. Thermal heating apparatus 62 is configured to collect thermal radiation from a source, such as the sun and transfer thermal energy to a fluid contained in the first tank 64. The fluid in the first tank 64 may be any liquid or gas, and in the present example, the fluid is water from a household piping system 70 that flows into thermal heating apparatus 62 from inlet 70a. In this manner, first tank 64 is fluidly connected to piping system 70 to exchange water therebetween.

Thermal heating apparatus 62 and first tank 64 are generally located outside a building and are exposed to weather and temperature effects of the natural world. In colder climates, the water in first tank 64 may freeze or thermal heating apparatus 62 and first tank 64 may experience undesirable heat losses. To reduce the chance of freezing, a series of electrical heating elements (not shown) may be provided inside first tank 64. To reduce the cost of running electrical heating elements and the amount of heat loss, a controller may activate the heating elements during appropriate periods of the day. For example, the heating elements may be turned on when electricity can be purchased from a power grid at a low cost compared to other periods of the day when electricity costs more. In another example, the heating elements may be turned on when there is a possibility of the water freezing. Low cost periods for electricity may include off-peak consumption periods of the power grid. For example, 1 am-7 am may be an off-peak consumption period corresponding with a low cost of electricity. Such a time period may also correspond to a potential for the water to freeze. First tank may also include insulation to reduce the chance of the freezing or to reduce heat losses.

Circulation pump 68 pumps heated water from the first tank 64 to other portions of piping system 70. For example, water heated by thermal heating apparatus 62 may be used in a dishwasher, a washing machine, a pool heater, an absorption chiller, a heat exchanger, or other devices that can use warm water. Alternatively, circulation pump 68 may divert a portion of the heated water to second tank 66 where the heated water may be stored for later use. The diversion of water to the locations and devices mentioned above may require interconnecting pipes and valves to direct warm water to specific locations and devices. The valves may be manually operated, or actuated by an automatic controller 72, for example, a micro controller, or a PC remotely connected to wireless actuators.

In addition, circulation pump 68 may also be automatically activated using controller 72 based on a preset condition. For example, there may be a temperature sensor that measures the temperature of water in the first tank 64. When the water has been heated to a pre-determined temperature, controller 72 may activate circulation pump 68 to cycle water through thermal heating system 60. In some examples, circulation pump may circulate water based on other conditions, for example, time of day.

As indicated, heated water may be temporarily stored in second tank 68. In this manner, second tank 66 is generally located inside a building and is located within a controlled environment. Accordingly, there may be a lower potential for water to freeze or lose heat when stored in second tank 66 as compared to storage in first tank 64. Even though there may be a lower potential for freezing and heat loss, it may be desirable to provide insulation with the second tank 66 to reduce heat losses and increase system efficiency.

Similar to first tank 64, second tank 66 may also include heating elements to supplement the thermal heating apparatus in heating water. In this manner, second tank 66 may be a furnace, a water heater, or a boiler. In another example, second tank 66 may heat water in: (a) parallel with thermal heating apparatus 62, (b) series with thermal heating apparatus 62, or (c) a combination of both parallel and series with heating apparatus 62. Heating water in series can allow the temperature of the water to exceed the maximum temperature attainable by using the thermal heating apparatus 62 alone. This is particularly useful when very warm water is desirable, for example, when using warm water for cleaning and disinfecting applications. Alternatively, heating water in parallel can allow higher flow rates of warm water that may allow simultaneous use of several devices in thermal heating system 60. Parallel heating can be beneficial when demand from a single device in thermal heating system 60 exceeds the capacity of thermal heating apparatus 62. In some cases, combinations of both subsequent heating by connection in series, and flow rate augmentation by connection in parallel, may be implemented in thermal heating system 60 to achieve benefits associated with each configuration. For such applications, the thermal heating system 60 may include appropriate flow controls, for example, metering devices, and check valves.

In some examples, thermal heating system 60 may include a recirculation pipe 74 connected between first tank 64 and second tank 66, allowing the transfer of water from second tank 66 to first tank 64. Recirculation of warm water from the second tank 66 to the first tank 64 may reduce the possibility of water freezing in first tank 64. In such cases, the use of recirculation pipe 74 may reduce or remove the need to provide electric heating elements inside first tank 64. When providing a recirculation pipe 74, the thermal heating system may include additional flow controls.

Second tank 66 may also serve as a storage container for thermal energy that is collected during periods of the day when solar radiation has a higher intensity than other periods of the day. In this manner, collected energy may be used at later times when solar radiation has a lower intensity. For example, energy that is collected by the thermal heating apparatus 62 and subsequently stored in second tank may be circulated directly from second tank 66 to portions of the thermal heating system 60 during peak power consumption. Utilizing thermal heating system 60 in this manner may lower energy costs. In some cases, thermal system 60 may collect thermal energy during off-peak periods and then circulate stored thermal energy to portions of the thermal heating system 60 when energy can be utilized in a cost effective manner. In such cases, controller 72 may activate additional valves and pumps to manage the flow of warm water within thermal heating system 60.

Referring again to FIG. 5, thermal heating system may also include a heat exchanger 80 comprising a warm water inlet 82, a cool water outlet 84, a cool fluid inlet 86 and a warm fluid outlet 88. Heat exchanger 80 may be any known configuration, for example, a cross-flow or a parallel-flow. A heat exchanger flow control device 90 can direct warm water to warm water inlet 82 so that the warm water may transfer heat to a fluid entering from cool fluid inlet 86, thereby cooling the water and heating up the fluid. The fluid entering the cool fluid inlet may be a liquid or gas, and in the present example, the fluid is air from a household heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC). After heat is transferred from the water to the air, cool water exits at cool water outlet 84 and can circulate to the first tank 64 or the second tank 66 where the water may be reheated. Warm air exiting heat exchanger 80 at warm fluid outlet 88 may be used to heat the surrounding environment.

Using water heated by thermal heating apparatus 62 in an HVAC system as described above can lower household heating costs. Similar energy and cost savings can be achieved when using water heated by thermal heating apparatus 62 in other devices and processes.

Referring now to FIGS. 8a-8f, illustrated therein are different examples of the thermal heating apparatus. In particular, the thermal heating apparatus is shown with different configurations for connecting the heat pipe 20 to the tank 12.

FIGS. 8a and 8b show an example where the heat pipe is inserted into a tube that is part of a tee coupling 130. The tee coupling has a main conduit 132 and a branch 134 protruding at an angle from the main conduit, for example at approximately a right angle. The branch 134 forms the tube, which extends from an open end 136 to a second end 138. Generally, the second end 138 is affixed to the main conduit 132.

The main conduit 132 slides over the exterior surface of the shell 12a of the tank 12. Accordingly, the second end 136 generally abuts against the exterior surface of the shell 12a. The tee coupling 130 is generally joined to the shell 12a, for example, using solder, welds, or another similar fastener. In some examples, the tee coupling 130 may be soldered to the shell 12a along the main conduit 132 and along the second end 136, or combinations thereof. The top end 20a of the heat pipe 20 may be inserted through the open end 138 and into the branch 134. The top end 20a may be joined to the branch 134, for example using solder, welds or another similar fastener. After joining the tee coupling 130 to the shell 12a, the tank 12, and any tee couplings 130 joined to the tank 12, may be wrapped with insulation.

Joining the tee coupling to the heat pipe 20 and tank 12 may seal the tee coupling 130 to the heat pipe 20 and shell 12a, for example in a vacuum tight manner. This may allow the use of a thermal casing to encapsulate the heat pipe 20 as described above.

Furthermore, joining the tee coupling to the heat pipe 20 and tank 12 may also allow thermal conduction between the heat pipe 20, the tee coupling 130 and the tank 12. In particular, this configuration allows thermal energy from incident thermal radiation on the heat pipe 20 to be conducted from the top end 20a of the heat pipe 20, and through the tank 12 before the thermal energy is transferred to the fluid within the tank 12.

In some examples, the top end 20a of the heat pipe 20 may directly contact the exterior surface of the shell 12a. This allows thermal energy to pass directly from the top end 20a of heat pipe 20 and into the tank 12 where it is transferred to the fluid in the tank 12. In some examples, the top end 20a may be joined directly to the exterior surface of the shell 12a, for example using solder, welds, or another similar fastener.

A benefit of tee coupling 130 is that thermal heating apparatus 10 can be easier to manufacture using the tee coupling 130 as compared to using the tube 30.

Referring now to FIGS. 8c and 8d, there is another example where the heat pipe 20 is inserted into a tube 230 that is joined to the tank 12. Tube 230 is similar to the tee coupling 130, except that the tubular element includes a bracket 232 instead of the main conduit 132. Generally, the bracket 232 has a shape corresponding to the main conduit 132, but unlike the main conduit 132, the bracket 232 does not wrap around the entire circumference of the shell 12a. Branch 134 protrudes at an angle from the bracket 232, for example at approximately a right angle. The bracket can be joined to the shell 12a for example, using solder, welds, or another similar fastener. The tube 230 generally has a lower cost than the tee coupling 130 because it uses less material.

Referring now to FIGS. 8e and 8f, there is another example of a tube 330 connected to the shell 12a of the tank 12. Tube 330 is generally a straight tube that attaches to the shell 12a of the tank 12 and extends radially outward therefrom. Unlike tee coupling 130 or tube 230, there is no main conduit or bracket. Accordingly, the tube 330 has an open end 336 and a second end 338. The second end abuts the exterior surface of the shell 12a and has a profile along its edge that matches the radius of the shell 12a so as to provide a close fit between the second end 338 and the exterior surface of the shell 12a. The second end is joined to the exterior surface, for example, using solder, welds or another similar fastener. The tube 330 generally has a lower cost than both tube 230 and tee coupling 330 because it uses less material.

While the above description provides examples of one or more processes or apparatuses, it will be appreciated that other processes or apparatuses may be within the scope of the accompanying claims.