3116. Utilizing High Thermal Conductivity Graphite Foam to Improve Heat Exchanger Performance


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Wiechmann, Vrable, Klett: 3116. Utilizing High Thermal Conductivity Graphite Foam to Improve Heat Exchanger Performance. 2001.



Contemporary thermal management has centered on aluminum and copper heat sinks and substrates. This is due to the very high thermal conductivity (180 W/m K for aluminum 6061 and 400 W/m K for copper). However, when weight is taken into account, the specific thermal conductivity (thermal conductivity divided by specific gravity) is only ~54 and 45 W/m K respectively. Therefore, in many applications, where weight is a significant concern, it is imperative that a lighter thermal management material is found.
New materials under development offer the potential to fabricate heat exchangers that are more efficient. The higher efficiency translates to smaller units and lower weight. The new materials are based on graphite, either a fiber or a new manifestation, graphitic foam.
A new process for fabricating graphitic foam has been developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Poco Graphite, Inc., of Decatur, Texas has licensed the process and is commercializing the product. Initially these foams possess a thermal conductivity of 120-150 W/m K at a relatively low density of 0.54 g/cm3. Potentially, the process will lead to a significant reduction in the cost of graphitic-based thermal management materials (i.e., foam- reinforced composites and foam core sandwich structures).
This paper reviews the recent work to understand the graphite foam material and also discusses the work being done to prove its utility in actual aircraft heat exchanger designs.


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