Tech Briefs

Fault-Tolerant Heat Exchanger

A single-point leak would not cause mixing of heat-transfer fluids.

A compact, lightweight heat exchanger has been designed to be fault-tolerant in the sense that a single-point leak would not cause mixing of heat-transfer fluids. This particular heat exchanger is intended to be part of the temperature-regulation system for habitable modules of the International Space Station and to function with water and ammonia as the heat-transfer fluids. The basic fault-tolerant design is adaptable to other heat-transfer fluids and heat exchangers for applications in which mixing of heat-transfer fluids would pose toxic, explosive, or other hazards: Examples could include fuel/air heat exchangers for thermal management on aircraft, process heat exchangers in the cryogenic industry, and heat exchangers used in chemical processing.

ImageThe reason this heat exchanger can tolerate a single-point leak is that the heat-transfer fluids are everywhere separated by a vented volume and at least two seals. The combination of fault tolerance, compactness, and light weight is implemented in a unique heat-exchanger core configuration: Each fluid passage is entirely surrounded by a vented region bridged by solid structures through which heat is conducted between the fluids. Precise, proprietary fabrication techniques make it possible to manufacture the vented regions and heat-conducting structures with very small dimensions to obtain a very large coefficient of heat transfer between the two fluids. A large heat-transfer coefficient favors compact design by making it possible to use a relatively small core for a given heat-transfer rate.

Calculations and experiments have shown that in most respects, the fault-tolerant heat exchanger can be expected to equal or exceed the performance of the non-fault-tolerant heat exchanger that it is intended to supplant (see table). The only significant disadvantages are a slight weight penalty and a small decrease in the mass-specific heat transfer.

This work was done by Michael G. Izenson and Christopher J. Crowley of Creare, Inc., for Johnson Space Center. For further information, contact the Johnson Commercial Technology Office at (281) 483-3809. MSC-23271