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Optimized Structures for Low-Profile Phase Change Thermal Spreaders


Thin, low-profile phase change thermal spreaders can provide cooling solutions for some of today's most pressing heat flux dissipation issues. These thermal issues are only expected to increase as future electronic circuitry requirements lead to denser and potentially 3D chip packaging. Phase change based heat spreaders, such as heat pipes or vapor chambers, can provide a practical solution for effectively dissipating large heat fluxes. This thesis reports a comprehensive study of state-of-the-art capillary pumped wick structures using computational modeling, micro wick fabrication, and experimental analysis.

Modeling efforts focus on predicting the shape of the liquid meniscus inside a complicated 3D wick structure. It is shown that this liquid shape can drastically affect the wick's thermal resistance. In addition, knowledge of the liquid meniscus shape allows for the computation of key parameters such as permeability and capillary pressure which are necessary for predicting the maximum heat flux.

After the model is validated by comparison to experimental results, the wick structure is optimized so as to decrease overall wick thermal resistance and increase the maximum capillary limited heat flux before dryout. The optimized structures are then fabricated out of both silicon and copper using both traditional and novel micro-fabrication techniques. The wicks are made super-hydrophilic using chemical and thermal oxidation schemes. A sintered monolayer of Cu particles is fabricated and analyzed as well.

The fabricated wick structures are experimentally tested for their heat transfer performance inside a well controlled copper vacuum chamber. Heat fluxes as high as 170 W/cm2 are realized for Cu wicks with structure heights of 100 μm. The structures optimized for both minimized thermal resistance and high liquid supply ability perform much better than their non-optimized counterparts. The super-hydrophilic oxidation scheme is found to drastically increase the maximum heat flux and decrease thermal resistance.

This research provides key insights as to how to optimize heat pipe structures to minimize thermal resistance and increase maximum heat flux. These thin wick structures can also be combined with a thicker liquid supply layer so that thin, low-resistance evaporator layers can be constructed and higher heat fluxes realized. The work presented in this thesis can be used to aid in the development of high-performance phase change thermal spreaders, allowing for temperature control of a variety of powerful electronic components.

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