A simplified, lightweight system for dissipating heat of a regenerative fuel- cell system would include a heat pipe with its evaporator end placed at the heat source and its condenser end integrated into the wall of the regenerative fuel cell system gas-storage tanks. The tank walls act as heat-radiating surfaces for cooling the regenerative fuel cell system. The system was conceived for use in outer space, where radiation is the only physical mechanism available for transferring heat to the environment. The system could also be adapted for use on propellant tanks or other large-surface-area structures to convert them to space heat-radiating structures.

Typically for a regenerative fuel cell system, the radiator is separate from the gas-storage tanks. By using each tank's surface as a heat-radiating surface, the need for a separate, potentially massive radiator structure is eliminated. In addition to the mass savings, overall volume is reduced because a more compact packaging scheme is possible. The underlying tank-wall structure provides ample support for heat pipes that help to distribute the heat over the entire tank surface.

The heat pipes are attached to the outer surface of each gas-storage tank by use of a high-thermal conductance, carbon-fiber composite-material wrap. Through proper choice of the composite layup, it is possible to exploit the high longitudinal conductivity of the carbon fibers (greater than the thermal conductivity of copper) to minimize the unevenness of the temperature distribution over the tank surface, thereby helping to maximize the overall heat-transfer efficiency.

In a prototype of the system, the heat-pipe and the composite wrap contribute an average mass of 340 g/m2 of radiator area. Lightweight space radiator panels have a mass of about 3,000 g/m2 of radiator area, so this technique saves almost 90 percent of the mass of separate radiator panels. In tests, the modified surface of the tank was found to have an emissivity of ≈0.85. The composite wrap remained tightly bound to the surface of the tank throughout the testing in thermal vacuum conditions.

This work was done by Kenneth A Burke and John R. Miller of Glenn Research Center, and Ian Jakupca and Scott Sargi of Analex Corp. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free online at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Physical Sciences category.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to

NASA Glenn Research Center
Innovative Partnerships Office
Attn: Steve Fedor
Mail Stop 4–8
21000 Brookpark Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44135.

Refer to LEW-17666-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

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

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