Heat conduction method offers massive increase in efficiency

September 07, 2020 //By Jean-Pierre Joosting
Heat conduction method offers massive increase in efficiency
A thermal diode developed by researchers could change the way heat is extracted from electronic systems, offering a nearly 100-fold increase in heat conduction.

Heat conduction is still a major problem in many areas of electronics such as server farms, communications systems, aircraft, space, amongst others. To address this issue, a team led by Jonathan Boreyko, an associate professor in mechanical engineering, has developed an aircraft thermal management technology that stands ready for adaptation into other areas for efficient heat conduction.

Boreyko was the recipient of a Young Investigator Research Program award in 2016, given by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. This award funded the development of planar bridging-droplet thermal diodes, a novel approach to thermal management that is both highly efficient and extremely versatile.

"We are hopeful that the one-way heat transfer of our bridging-droplet diode will enable the smart thermal management of electronics, aircraft, and spacecraft," said Boreyko.

Diodes are a special kind of device that allow heat to conduct in only one direction by use of engineered materials. For management of heat, diodes are attractive because they enable the dumping of heat entering one side, while resisting heat on the opposite side. In the case of aircraft (the focus of the research), heat is absorbed from an overheated plane, but resisted from the outside environment.

Boreyko's team created a diode using two copper plates in a sealed environment, separated by a microscopic gap. The first plate is engineered with a wick structure to hold water, while the opposite plate is coated with a water-repelling (hydrophobic) layer. The water on the wicking surface receives heat, causing evaporation into steam. As the steam moves across the narrow gap, it cools and condenses into dew droplets on the hydrophobic side. These dew droplets grow large enough to "bridge" the gap and get sucked back into the wick, starting the process again.

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