Thermally Actuated Hydraulic Pumps

These pumps would contain no sliding (wearing) parts.

Thermally actuated hydraulic pumps have been proposed for diverse applications in which direct electrical or mechanical actuation is undesirable and the relative slowness of thermal actuation can be tolerated. The proposed pumps would not contain any sliding (wearing) parts in their compressors and, hence, could have long operational lifetimes.

The basic principle of a pump according to the proposal is to utilize the thermal expansion and contraction of a wax or other phase-change material in contact with a hydraulic fluid in a rigid chamber. Heating the chamber and its contents from below to above the melting temperature of the phase-change material would cause the material to expand significantly, thus causing a substantial increase in hydraulic pressure and/or a substantial displacement of hydraulic fluid out of the chamber. Similarly, cooling the chamber and its contents from above to below the melting temperature of the phase-change material would cause the material to contract significantly, thus causing a substantial decrease in hydraulic pressure and/or a substantial displacement of hydraulic fluid into the chamber. The displacement of the hydraulic fluid could be used to drive a piston.

A Thermally Actuated Hydraulic Pump would displace oil, which would displace a piston in a hydraulic jack.
The figure illustrates a simple example of a hydraulic jack driven by a thermally actuated hydraulic pump. The pump chamber would be a cylinder containing encapsulated wax pellets and containing radial fins to facilitate transfer of heat to and from the wax.

The plastic encapsulation would serve as an oil/wax barrier and the remaining interior space could be filled with hydraulic oil. A filter would retain the encapsulated wax particles in the pump chamber while allowing the hydraulic oil to flow into and out of the chamber.

In one important class of potential applications, thermally actuated hydraulic pumps, exploiting vertical ocean temperature gradients for heating and cooling as needed, would be used to vary hydraulic pressures to control buoyancy in undersea research vessels. Heretofore, electrically actuated hydraulic pumps have been used for this purpose. By eliminating the demand for electrical energy for pumping, the use of the thermally actuated hydraulic pumps could prolong the intervals between battery charges, thus making it possible to greatly increase the durations of undersea exploratory missions.

This work was done by Jack Jones, Ronald Ross, and Yi Chao of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Innovative Technology Assets Management
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4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109-8099
(818) 354-2240
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Refer to NPO-40844, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

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