A theoretical and experimental investigation has shown that the capacities of heat pipes can be increased through suitable reformulation of their working fluids. The surface tensions of all of the working fluids heretofore used in heat pipes decrease with temperature. As explained in more detail below, the limits on the performance of a heat pipe are associated with the decrease in the surface tension of the working fluid with temperature, and so one can enhance performance by reformulating the working fluid so that its surface tension increases with temperature.

A theoretical and experimental investigation has shown that the capacities of heat pipes can be increased through suitable reformulation of their working fluids. The surface tensions of all of the working fluids heretofore used in heat pipes decrease with temperature. As explained in more detail below, the limits on the performance of a heat pipe are associated with the decrease in the surface tension of the working fluid with temperature, and so one can enhance performance by reformulating the working fluid so that its surface tension increases with temperature.

This improvement is applicable to almost any kind of heat pipe in almost any environment. The heat-transfer capacity of a heat pipe in its normal operating-temperature range is subject to a capillary limit and a boiling limit. Both of these limits are associated with the temperature dependence of surface tension of the working fluid. In the case of a traditional working fluid, the decrease in surface tension with temperature causes a body of the liquid phase of the working fluid to move toward a region of lower temperature, thus preventing the desired spreading of the liquid in the heated portion of the heat pipe.

As a result, the available capillary-pressure pumping head decreases as the temperature of the evaporator end of the heat pipe increases, and operation becomes unstable. Water has widely been used as a working fluid in heat pipes. Because the surface tension of water decreases with increasing temperature, the heat loads and other aspects of performance of heat pipes that contain water are limited. Dilute aqueous solutions of long-chain alcohols have shown promise as substitutes for water that can offer improved performance, because these solutions exhibit unusual surface-tension characteristics: Experiments have shown that in the cases of an aqueous solution of an alcohol, the molecules of which contain chains of more than four carbon atoms, the surface tension increases with temperature when the temperature exceeds a certain value. There are also other liquids that have surface tensions that increase with temperature and could be used as working fluids in heat pipes. For example, as a substitute for ammonia, which is the working fluid in some heat pipes, one could use a solution of ammonia and an ionic surfactant.

This work was done by David F. Chao of Glenn Research Center and Nengli Zhang of Ohio Aerospace Institute. For further information,access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line 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, Commercial Technology Office, Attn: Steve Fedor, Mail Stop 4-8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-17270.