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Heat Pipe Technology:
Passive Heat Transfer for Greater Efficiency

Heat pipes offer high effective thermal conductivities (5,000 Watts/meter·K to 200,000 Watts/meter·K), energy-efficiency, light weight, low cost and the flexibility of many different size and shape options. As passive heat transfer systems, heat pipes offer simple and reliable operation, with high effective thermal conductivity, no moving parts, ability to transport heat over long distances and quiet vibration-free operation.

heat pipe thermal management solutionHeat pipes transfer heat more efficiently and evenly than solid conductors such as aluminum or copper because of their lower total thermal resistance. The heat pipe is filled with a small quantity of working fluid (water, acetone, nitrogen, methanol, ammonia or sodium). Heat is absorbed by vaporizing the working fluid. The vapor transports heat to the condenser region where the condensed vapor releases heat to a cooling medium. The condensed working fluid is returned to the evaporator by gravity, or by the heat pipe's wick structure, creating capillary action. Both cylindrical and planar heat pipe variants have an inner surface lined with a capillary wicking material.

What is a Heat Pipe?heat pipe cooling diagram

Heat pipes are the most common passive, capillary-driven of the two-phase systems. Two-phase heat transfer involves the liquid-vapor phase change (boiling/evaporation and condensation) of a working fluid. The heat pipe technology industry leader, Thermacore has specialized in the design, development and manufacturing of passive, two-phase heat transfer devices since 1970.

Heat pipes have an extremely effective high thermal conductivity. While solid conductors such as aluminum, copper, graphite and diamond have thermal conductivities ranging from 250 W/m•K to 1,500 W/m•K, heat pipes have effective thermal conductivities that range from 5,000 W/m•K to 200,000 W/m•K. Heat pipes transfer heat from the heat source (evaporator) to the heat sink (condenser) over relatively long distances through the latent heat of vaporization of a working fluid. Heat pipes typically have 3 sections: an evaporator section (heat input/source), adiabatic (or transport) section and a condenser section (heat output/sink).

Key Components of a Heat Pipe

The three major components of a heat pipe include:

  • A vacuum tight, sealed containment shell or vessel
  • Working fluid
  • Capillary wick structure

They all work together to transfer heat more efficiently and evenly. The wick structure lines the inner surface of the heat pipe shell and is saturated with the working fluid. The wick provides the structure to develop the capillary action for the liquid returning from the condenser (heat output/sink) to the evaporator (heat input/source). Since the heat pipe contains a vacuum, the working fluid will boil and take up latent heat at well below its boiling point at atmospheric pressure. Water, for instance, will boil at just above 273° K (0°C) and start to effectively transfer latent heat at this low temperature.


Heat Pipe Shell or Containment Vessel

Heat pipes can be constructed from a variety of different materials. Thermacore has constructed heat pipes from aluminum, copper, titanium, monel, stainless steel, inconel and tungsten. The most common for electronics cooling applications is copper. The choice of heat pipe containment material is largely dependent on the compatibility with the working fluid.

Working Fluids

Thermacore has designed, developed and manufactured heat pipes using over 27 different working fluids. The heat pipe working fluid chosen depends on the operating temperature range of the application. Working fluids range from liquid helium for extremely low temperature applications (-271°C) to silver (>2,000°C) for extremely high temperatures. The most common heat pipe working fluid is water for an operating temperature range from 1°C to 325°C. Low temperature heat pipes use fluids like ammonia and nitrogen. High temperature heat pipes utilize cesium, potassium, NaK and sodium (873–1,473°K).

 

Heat Pipe Working FluidOperating Temperature Range (°C)Heat Pipe Shell Material
Low Temperature or Cryogenic Heat Pipe Working Fluids
Carbon Dioxide -50 to 30 Aluminum, Stainless Steel, Titanium
Helium -271 to -269 Stainless Steel, Titanium
Hydrogen -260 to -230 Stainless Steel
Methane -180 to -100 Stainless Steel
Neon -240 to -230 Stainless Steel
Nitrogen -200 to -160 Stainless Steel
Oxygen -210 to -130 Aluminum, Titanium
Mid Range Heat Pipe Working Fluids
Acetone -48 to 125 Aluminum, Stainless Steel
Ammonia -75 to 125 Aluminum, Stainless Steel
Ethane -150 to 25 Aluminum
Methanol -75 to 120 Copper, Stainless Steel
Methylamine -90 to 125 Aluminum
Pentane -125 to 125 Aluminum, Stainless Steel
Propylene -150 to 60 Aluminum, Stainless Steel
Water 1 to 325 Copper, Monel, Nickel, Titanium
High Temperature Heat Pipe Fluids
Cesium 350 to 925 Stainless Steel, Inconel, Haynes
NaK 425 to 825 Stainless Steel, Inconel, Haynes
Potassium 400 to 1,025 Stainless Steel, Inconel, Haynes
Sodium 500 to 1,225 Stainless Steel, Inconel, Haynes
Lithium 925 to 1,825 Tungsten, Niobium
Silver 1,625 to 2,025 Tungsten, Molybdenum

Wick Structures

The heat pipe wick structure is a structure that uses capillaries to move the liquid working fluid from condenser back to the evaporator section. Heat pipe wick structures are constructed from various materials and methods. The most common heat pipe wick structures include: axially grooves on the inner heat pipe vessel wall, screen/wire and “sintered powder metal.” Other advanced heat pipe wick structures include arteries, bi-dispersed sintered powder and composite wick structures.

Thermacore manufactures all of the common wick structures, as well as the advanced wick structures. However, Thermacore specializes in a "sintered powder metal" wick structure that allows the heat pipe to provide the highest heat flux capability, greatest degree of gravitational orientation insensitivity and freeze/thaw tolerance.

 

Groove Wick
Groove Wick
Screen Woven
Screen/Woven Wick
Sintered Wick
Sintered Powder Wick

Thermacore Heat Pipe Technology for Any Application

Embedded heat pipe designs give you enhanced performance for existing heat sinks (by up to 50%) with minimal design changes.

Vapor chamber heat sinks, like our Therma-Base® vapor spreader, alleviate spreading resistance and accept higher heat fluxes than traditional solid heat sinks when used as the base of a heat sink.

Isolated Therma-Charge® units are designed for electrical isolation. They can insulate several thousand volts of electricity. Various sizes and configurations of these thermal heat pipes are available, or you can get a custom heat pipe specification.

Therma-Tower® heat pipe technology uses a wick structure and vertical cooling fins to give you maximum heat dissipation with minimum footprint.

Therma-Loop® loop heat pipes have no wick structure in the liquid and vapor lines. They're ideal for applications where the distance from heat source to condenser makes conventional heat pipes impractical, or application has high gravitation forces or shock and vibration isolation requirements.

Axially grooved heat pipes are low temperature heat pipes using fluids such as ammonia and propylene used for spreading heat over extended distances for applications such as satellite thermal control.

Isothermal Furnace Liners (IFLs), are high temperature heat pipes used for creating uniform or isothermal temperatures for applications such as Thermocouple Calibration and Semiconductor Crystal Growth.

 

Thermal management challenge? Take the first step towards the solution for you. Please contact a Thermacore technical representative or e-mail info@thermacore.com for more information on our thermal solution technologies.

 
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