Pumped Two Phase Cooling

Pumped single or two phase cooling is generally used to remove and dissipate heat from high-power heat sources such as electronics and lasers, or when the thermal energy must be transferred a significant distance between the heat source and the heat sink. Pumped single phase cooling is commonly used today in automotive systems and power electronics equipment, where the heat fluxes are relatively low and/or temperature uniformity is not required. In a pumped single phase loop, the liquid coolant is pumped through a cold plate which is attached to the heat source being cooled. The temperature of the liquid coolant increases as it passes through the cold plate, absorbing and storing the heat in its sensible heat capacity.

What Are Pumped Two Phase Cooling Systems?

In pumped two phase cooling systems, heat is transferred by the evaporation and condensation of a portion or all of the working fluid. Typically, a liquid near saturation is pumped into the cold plate, where it starts to boil, cooling the electronics and storing the energy in the latent heat of the fluid. The two phase (liquid and vapor) fluid then flows to the condenser, where the heat is removed, condensing the vapor, so that a single phase (liquid) exits the condenser, and the cycle repeats.

Stand-alone pumped two phase cooling loop

Figure 1. Stand-alone pumped two phase cooling loop with quick-disconnects for cooling up to four cold plates.

 

When properly designed, two phase pumped loops can do the following:

  • Transfer heat over long distances
  • Cool high heat flux electronics
  • Accommodate & cool multiple cold plates in parallel
    • Use quick disconnects to swap out electronics
    • Heat can be applied and removed from any combination of cold plates, with passive flow control to each cold plate
  • Operate in any orientation
  • Cooling over large areas (ACT has demonstrated two phase cooling with multiple 1.8 ft2 (1700 cm2) cold plates)

Pumped two-phase systems require additional design, since flow instabilities must be suppressed, and the system must accommodate both liquid and vapor flows. However, pumped two phase has the following benefits when compared with single phase cooling:

  • Reduced Size, Weight and Power (SWaP), which is an important concern on aircraft and military vehicles
    • Lower flow rates and pumping power
  • Mini-channel heat exchangers instead of micro-channel heat exchangers, reducing pumping power and clogging issues
  • Isothermal temperatures over large cold plates (±0.5°C has been demonstrated at ACT)
  • Thermal management of multiple electronics cards that need to operate at the same temperature (±3°C has been demonstrated at ACT)
    • When properly designed, turning some of the electronics off will not affect the temperature of the remaining cold plates

Two Phase Cooling System Layout

The basic layout of a pumped two phase cooling system is similar to a pumped single phase system, except that a two phase reservoir is used to accommodate changes in fluid volume, rather than the accumulator that is used in a single phase system. An example pumped two phase system is shown in Figure 1, where quick connects allow cold plates (and associated electronics) to be swapped out without the need to drain and recharge the system. Flexible lines allow the cold plates to be tested in any orientation, and at different elevations.

The cold plates (heat sinks) are the two evaporators in the front of Figure 1, with a transparent top plate. In the left evaporator, single phase flow enters from the top, a fraction of the liquid boils to remove the heat, and the two phase mixture exits at the bottom (note the location of the bubbles). For the right evaporator, the single phase flow enters from the bottom, with a two phase mixture exiting the top of the cold plate. ACT has demonstrated the ability of these systems to remove heat as the orientation of each evaporator is changed independently from the others.

Some electronics cooling applications have large numbers of parallel electronics boards, where it is desirable to apply electrical power and cool an arbitrary number of boards, without having to adjust the flow to each board. This is easily accommodated with a pumped two phase cooling system, where large numbers of cold plates can be cooled in parallel (series flow is not generally used when temperature uniformity is important, so that each cold plate has the same entrance conditions).

Figure 2 (A) shows the test set-up for four cold plates, each of which can be heated independently. The individual cold plates are marked with blue, orange, yellow and red stickers.
Note that the valves are used in this setup to provide a fixed pressure drop, adjusting them as flow conditions change is not necessary. Figure 2 (B) shows an individual cold plate in more detail.

Figure 3 (A) is a video demonstrating that power can be applied and removed to any of the cold plates during operation. When heater power is supplied to a given cold plate, a color coded dot appears next to the cold plate, and bubble formation can be seen. Figure 3 (B) shows the temperatures and flow rates for all four cold plates. When the electrical power to an individual cold plate is turned off, the temperature of that cold plate drops. However, as expected, the temperature of the powered cold plates is basically unaffected as the power changes.

 

test set-up for four cold plates

Figure 2 (A) shows the test set-up for four cold plates, each of which can be heated independently. The individual cold plates are marked with blue, orange, yellow and red stickers. Note that the valves are used in this setup to provide a fixed pressure drop, adjusting them as flow conditions change is not necessary. Figure 2 (B) shows an individual cold plate in more detail.

 

A.

two-phase cooling of 4 heat sinks

Figure 3. (A) Video showing two-phase cooling of 4 cold plates, with intermittent power. A dot shows when the heat is applied, and vanishes when the heat is turned off. (B) Turning off electrical power to some cold plates does not affect the temperature of the other cold plates.

 

Where to Learn More About Pumped Two Phase Cooling Systems

Further information on pumped two-phase cooling is located on the following pages:

  • Comparison of Pumped Single and Two-Phase Loops
  • Pumped Two-Phase Mini-Channel Cooling for Electronics Thermal Management, which discusses pumped two phase cooling in more detail
  • Mini-Channel Cold Plates for Two Phase Cooling of Electronics, which discusses some of the features of the ACT cold plate (heat sink) designs

Related technologies that ACT is working on include:

Read more about Pumped Two Phase Cooling:

  • Comparison of Pumped Single and Two-Phase Loops
  • Pumped Two-Phase Mini-Channel Cooling for Electronics Thermal Management
  • Mini-Channel Cold Plates for Two Phase Cooling of Electronics
  • Hybrid Two Phase Loop