Thermal Storage Resources

Video showing freezing of PCM

Phase Change Materials (PCMs) store thermal energy by the phase change from solid to liquid since the latent heat from melting or freezing is at least 1-2 orders of magnitude higher than the energy stored by the specific heat.  PCM applications in electronics thermal management include:

Due to the dynamic, time-dependent thermal properties of the PCM heat exchanger, advanced modeling capabilities and experience in thermal design is essential. ACT has experience in designing PCM based cooling systems, ranging from milli-watts to kilo-watts. Our modeling capabilities and software packages for PCM assemblies include:

Phase Change Material (PCM) Heat Sink Sample

Phase Change Material (PCM) Heat Sink Sample

  • In-House Design and Analysis Software
  • Thermal Desktop
  • Autodesk Simulation CFD

Applications include:

The PCM heat exchanger/cold plate design also plays a large role in ensuring a low-weight heat exchanger is built. PCMs, such as paraffin waxes, that are commonly used in these heat exchangers have poor thermal conductivities, often < 1 W/m-K. This causes a need for additional features, such as extended surfaces and fins to effectively melt the entire PCM with minimal thermal resistance. Accurate predictions of the effective thermal conductivity of the PCM heat exchanger help develop a lean solution.

ACT is experienced in the designing and fabrication of complex PCM packaging, including:

  • Corrugated surfaces
  • Fins (Folded, Integral, Bonded, etc.)
  • Heat pipe embedded enclosures
  • Heat Exchangers

PCM Assemblies for heat storage use a variety of PCMs and wall materials to meet application-specific requirements. Our modeling and manufacturing experience includes paraffin waxes, hydrated salts, and metal-based PCM assemblies for powers ranging from 1 to 100 KW.

Smoothing Out Pulsed Operation

PCM heat exchanger smooth out heat removal rate

Figure 1. A PCM heat exchanger can smooth out the heat removal rate, leveling the load for a vapor compression system.

Several applications have pulsed heating, with a period of high heating, followed by a longer period of lower heating.  PCM thermal storage devices can provide thermal storage for repeated duty cycle components, allowing the heat rejection system to be sized for the average rather than the peak heating.  ACT has demonstrated the benefits of load-leveling in systems that range from individual transistors up to large heat exchangers for Directed Energy Weapon (DEW) systems.

Figure 1 shows how a PCM heat exchanger can smooth out the heat removal rate, leveling the load for a vapor compression system.  The PCM melts and absorbs heat during the power-on condition.  It then gradually freezes over the rest of the cycle, so that heat can be dissipated over the full duty cycle.  By dampening the heat load, the PCM heat exchanger allows the ultimate heat rejection system to be sized for much lower heat loads, as indicated. For applications with extreme heat loads, such as directed energy weapons, PCM can drastically reduce the overall size of the required heat sink. The basic technology is applicable in every type of cooling system:

  • Vapor Compression Systems – Reduce condenser/compressor size
  • Air cooled system – Reduce fin volume
  • Liquid cooled systems – Reduce pump size
  • Space Systems – Reduce Radiator Area

ACT is experienced with full thermal system design and component-level PCM packaging challenges.

Short Term Thermal Storage

The heat storage capacity of PCM is advantageous to designers of short duration, applications with out a suitable heat sink, such as missile electronics thermal management. Limited space and system weight do not allow for a bulky thermal solution.

PCM heat sinks are exceptionally compact, lightweight, and offer increased reliability due to their passive operation. This is a significant advantage compared to traditional active steady-state solutions. For one-time use applications, unlike pulsed operation, the PCM can act as the final heat sink, absorbing the heat load during full operation.

PCM heat sinks can be designed for:

  • Long Term Storage Before Use
  • Large Accelerations
  • Moderate Loading Stresses
  • Ambient Pressure Changes

With ACT’s expertise creating capable conduction paths to fully melt the PCM with minimal temperature rise, a solution can be realized for challenging, high heat, one-time use applications.

Protection from Failure During Coolant Interruptions

In many systems, there are periods of time where the primary coolant is unavailable or experiences a momentary failure. During these periods, most primary power systems are shut down, however, the need for batteries or auxiliary power may be required.

A PCM cooling solution will reliably extend the period of operation before electronics or batteries overheat by storing thermal energy. Solutions can be customized based on the duration and max temperature of electronics to assure safe operation during episodes of primary coolant loss. This provides a cost-effective, lightweight solution to increase thermal management system reliability.


Thermal Storage to Increase Cooling Capacity During Hot Days

Applications include:

  • Directed Energy Weapons
  • Pulsed Electronics
  • Missiles
  • Battery Cooling
  • HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning)
  • Spacecraft Thermal Control
  • Air Cooled Condensers for Power Plants
 Left: System utilization, the thermosyphon internal valve is open and the heat from steam or coolant water can be removed to both PCM and the ambient air. Right: System regeneration, the internal valve is closed and the heat from PCM can be removed to the ambient to regenerate PCM.

Figure 2: Left: System utilization, the thermosyphon internal valve is open and the heat from steam or coolant water can be removed to both PCM and the ambient air. Right: System regeneration, the internal valve is closed and the heat from PCM can be removed to the ambient to regenerate PCM.

In some power and cooling systems, The maximum performance is needed during hot summer afternoons, but the air temperature is usually highest at this time, limiting the amount of heat that can be rejected to ambient.  Thermal storage can be used to increase the cooling capacity during the hot days while using the colder air at night to recharge the thermal storage.  In some dry areas of the U.S., such as Arizona, the nighttime temperature can be more than 25°C colder than the daytime temperature.

Air conditioners are one device that can benefit from day/night thermal storage since they are used most heavily on hot summer afternoons.  Power plants are another system that can benefit from thermal storage.  The highest electrical demand occurs on hot summer afternoons, primarily from all the people running air conditioners.  This is particularly important when the power plant uses Air Cooled Condensers (ACC), which cool the power plant with no net water consumption.  Cool thermal storage takes advantage of the reduced ambient temperature at night time to provide additional cooling capacity.


Thermal Storage for Supplemental Power Plant Cooling

Figure 1. Cool Storage System developed at ACT will provide supplemental cooling to Air-Cooled Condensers.

Figure 1. Cool Storage System developed at ACT will provide supplemental cooling to Air-Cooled Condensers.

In order for power plants to output maximum load during hot ambient temperatures, additional cooling is required to maintain a sufficient vacuum pressure downstream of the turbine. Thermal energy storage can be used to increase the cooling capacity of the power plant during these hot days while using the cold air at night to recharge the phase change material.    This load shifting to cooling at nighttime temperatures is done in order to improve the cooling capacity of Air-Cooled Condenser (ACC) systems.  To help reduce freshwater demand by power plants, thermal energy storage is a novel approach to supplement and enhance air cooling.

For an evaluation of design requirements and recommendations, contact an ACT thermal expert today.  

Product Links

PCM Heat Sinks

ACT’s PCM heat sink products are designed to absorb heat with minimal temperature rise, as the phase change material melts

PCM Heat Sink FAQ

A quick introduction to Phase Change Material Heat Sinks

PCM Calculator

The PCM heatsink calculator can be used to determine the approximate size and mass of a PCM heat sink required for thermal storage applications.

PCM Selection

A discussion on the basic types of PCM: paraffin waxes, non-paraffin organics, hydrated salts, and metallic

Heat Sink Design

PCM heat sinks must be designed around the very low thermal conductivity of typical PCMs


Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC)

Differential scanning calorimetry, or DSC, is a thermoanalytical technique in which the difference between the amount of heat required to change the temperature of a sample and a reference is measured as a function of temperature. It can be used to measure the latent heat, the specific heat, and sometimes the thermal conductivity.



New Advancements

On-Chip PCM for Pulsed Power Placing PCM

within several µm of the gates on high power pulsed GaN chips can reduce temperatures and/or increase maximum power without overheating

PCM Heat Exchangers for Pulsed Power

Adding PCM to a heat exchanger for pulsed Directed Energy Weapon (DEW) systems can greatly reduce Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) for the overall cooling system

Electronics Heat Sinks

One Time Use, Loss of Coolant, Dampening: used for electronics cooling for both pulsed power operations, and when the existing heat sink is inadequate

Power Plant Cooling

Increase in Cooling Capacity: Dry Cooling Power Plants reject megawatts of heat to condense low temperature, low pressure steam, without consuming fresh water. However, the power producing capacity of dry cooling systems must be reduced when the ambient air temperature is high, since less steam can be condensed. ACT is developing a Cool Storage System that uses Phase Change Material (PCM) and Thermosyphons to increase the cooling capacity during the daytime, by melting the PCM

Thermal Storage with Venting

Most thermal storage systems are designed to store heat by melting a Phase Change Material (PCM), and can operate over a very large number of cycles. When only a few cycles must be handled, Thermal Storage with Venting should be considered, since it can result in lighter and/or more compact systems

Single Use Vapor Venting Systems for Thermal Storage

When heated, liquid held in a porous structure boils, vaporizes, and then the vapor is vented

Hydride Thermal Storage

Similar to vapor venting thermal storage, hydride thermal storage offers the potential for lower mass and volume systems, when compared with conventional PCM thermal storage systems.

Single Use Hydride Venting Systems for Thermal Storage

offer a potential volume reduction of 90 percent or more, when compared with PCM systems

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