A diaphragm pump driven by a piezoelectric actuator is undergoing development. This pump is intended to be a prototype of lightweight, highly reliable pumps for circulating cooling liquids in protective garments and high-power electronic circuits, and perhaps for some medical applications. The pump would be highly reliable because it would contain no sliding seals or bearings that could wear, the only parts subject to wear would be two check valves, and the diaphragm and other flexing parts could be designed, by use of proven methods, for extremely long life. Because the pump would be capable of a large volumetric flow rate and would have only a small dead volume, its operation would not be disrupted by ingestion of gas, and it could be started reliably under all conditions.

The prior art includes a number piezoelectrically actuated diaphragm pumps. Because of the smallness of the motions of piezoelectric actuators (typical maximum strains only about 0.001), the volumetric flow rates of those pumps are much too small for typical cooling applications. In the pump now undergoing development, mechanical resonance would be utilized to amplify the motion generated by the piezoelectric actuator and thereby multiply the volumetric flow rate.

Figure 1. The Spring-and-Mass Resonator, if properly designed and constructed, would amplify thestroke of the piezoelectric stack by a factor of the order of 20.
The prime mover in this pump would be a stack of piezoelectric ceramic actuators, one end of which would be connected to a spring that would be part of a spring-and-mass resonator structure. The "mass" part of the resonator structure would include the pump diaphragm (see Figure 1). Contraction of the spring would draw the diaphragm to the left, causing the volume of the fluid chamber to increase and thereby causing fluid to flow into the chamber. Subsequent expansion of the spring would push the diaphragm to the right, causing the volume of the fluid chamber to decrease, and thereby expelling fluid from the chamber. The fluid would enter and leave the chamber through check valves.

The piezoelectric stack would be driven electrically to make it oscillate at the resonance frequency of the spring-andmass structure. This frequency could be made high enough (of the order of 400 Hz) that the masses of all components could be made conveniently small. The resonance would amplify the relatively small motion of the piezoelectric stack (a stroke of the order of 10 μm) to a diaphragm stroke of the order of 0.5 mm. The exact amplification factor would depend on the rate of damping of oscillations; this, in turn, would depend on details of design and operation, including (but not limited to) the desired pressure rise and volumetric flow rate. In order to obtain resonance with large displacement, the damping rate must be low enough that the energy imparted to the pumped fluid on each stroke is much less than the kinetic and potential energy exchanged between the mass and spring during each cycle of oscillation.

Figure 2. This Circuit Would Recover Energy returned by the piezoelectric actuator during each cycleof oscillation, thereby minimizing the power demand of the pump.
To minimize the power demand of the pump, a highly efficient drive circuit would be used to excite the piezoelectric stack. This circuit (see Figure 2) would amount to a special-purpose regenerative, switching power supply that would operate in a power-source mode during the part of an oscillation cycle when the excitation waveform was positive and in a power- recovery mode during the part of the cycle when the excitation waveform was negative. The circuit would include a voltage-boosting dc-to-dc converter that would convert between a supply potential of 24 Vdc and the high voltage needed to drive the piezoelectric stack. Because of the power-recovery feature, the circuit would consume little power. It should be possible to build the circuit as a compact unit, using readily available components.

This work was done by Michael G. Izenson, Robert J. Kline-Schoder, and Martin A. Shimko of Creare, Inc. for Johnson Space Center. For further information, contact the Johnson Commercial Technology Office at (281) 483-3809. MSC-23112.


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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