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Micro/Nano-Scale Phase Change Systems for Thermal Management and Solar Energy Conversion Applications


The first part of the dissertation presents a study that implements micro and nano scale engineered surfaces for enhancement of evaporation and boiling phase change heat transfer in both capillary wick structures and pool boiling systems. Capillary wicking surfaces are integral components of heat pipes and vapor chamber thermal spreaders often used for thermal management of microelectronic devices. In addition, pool boiling systems can be encountered in immersion cooling systems which are becoming more commonly investigated for thermal management applications of microelectronic devices and even data centers. The latent heat associated with the change of state from liquid to vapor, and the small temperature differences required to drive this process yield great heat transfer characteristics. Additionally, since no external energy is required to drive the phase change process, these systems are great for portable devices and favorable for reduction of cost and energy consumption over alternate thermal management technologies.

Most state of the art capillary wicks used in these devices are typically constructed from sintered copper media. These porous structures yield high surface areas of thin liquid film where evaporation occurs, thus promoting phase change heat transfer. However, thermal interfaces at particle point contacts formed during the sintering process and complex liquid/vapor flow within these wick structures yield high thermal and liquid flow resistances and limit the maximum heat flux they can dissipate. In capillary wicks the maximum heat flux is typically governed by the capillary or boiling limits and engineering surfaces that delay these limitations and yield structures with large surface areas of thin liquid film where phase change heat transfer is promoted is highly desired. In this study, biporous media consisting of microscale pin fins separated by microchannels are examined as candidate structures for the evaporator wick of a vapor chamber heat pipe. Smaller pores are used to generate high capillary suction, while larger microchannels are used to alleviate flow resistance. The heat transfer coefficient is found to depend on the area coverage of a liquid film with thickness on the order of a few microns near the meniscus of the triple phase contact line. We manipulate the area coverage and film thickness by varying the surface area-to-volume ratio through the use of microstructuring. In some samples, a transition from evaporative heat transfer to nucleate boiling is observed. While it is difficult to identify when the transition occurs, one can identify regimes where evaporation dominates over nucleate boiling and vice versa. Heat fluxes of 277.0 (± 9.7) W/cm2 can be dissipated by wicks with heaters of area 1 cm2, while heat fluxes up to 733.1 (± 103.4) W/cm2 can be dissipated by wicks with smaller heaters intended to simulate local hot-spots.

In pool boiling systems that are encountered in immersion cooling applications, the heat transfer coefficient (HTC) is governed by the bubble nucleation site density and the agitation in the liquid/vapor flow these bubbles produce when they detach from the surface. The nucleation site density and release rate is usually determined by the surface morphology. Another important parameter in pool boiling systems is the maximum heat flux (CHF) that can safely be dissipated. In practice, this quantity is about two orders of magnitude smaller than limitations suggested by kinetic theory. For essentially infinite, smooth, well wetted surfaces, hydrodynamic instability theories capturing liquid/vapor interactions away from the heated surface have been successful in predicting CHF. On finite micro and nano structured surfaces where applying the hydrodynamic theory formulation is not easily justified, other effects may contribute to phase change heat transfer characteristics. Here, we also present a pool boiling study on biporous microstructured surfaces used in capillary wick experiments. Structures are manipulated by reduction of pore size to determine if increased capillary pressure can enhance rewetting from heater edges and delay CHF. A comparative study between the two experimental systems indicates that while the capillary limitation is significant in capillary wick experiments, for these well wetted microstructured surfaces used in pool boiling systems the hydrodynamic limitation defined based on heater size causes the occurrence of CHF. Other hierarchical nanowire surfaces containing periodic microscale cavities are investigated as well and are seen to yield a ~2.4 fold increase in heat transfer coefficient characteristics while not compromising CHF compared to surfaces where cavities are not present. These studies indicate pathways for enhancement of heat transfer coefficient via implementing hierarchical structures, while no clear method in increasing CHF is determined for finite size surfaces of various morphologies.

In the second part of this dissertation, solar energy storage is sought in `phase change' of photochromic molecular systems: the storage of solar energy in the chemical bonds of photosensitive molecules (a photochemical reaction) and subsequent recovery of the energy in a back reaction in the form of heat, reversibly. These molecular systems are interesting alternatives to photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies which cannot satisfy the needs of load leveling, or for portable municipal heating applications. Typically made of organic compounds, these molecules have become known for rapid decomposition, short energy storage time scales and poor energy storing efficiencies. Thus, they have been abandoned as practical solar energy storage systems in the past several decades. On the other hand, organometallic molecular systems have not been extensively probed for these applications. Recent research has indicated that organometallic (fulvalene)diruthenium FvRu2 has demonstrated excellent energy storage characteristic and durability. Here, we report on a full cycle molecular solar thermal (MOST) microfluidic system based on a bis(1,1-dimethyltridecyl) substituted derivative of FvRu2 that allows for long term solar energy storage (110 J/g), and "on demand" energy release upon exposure to a catalyst. The microfluidic systems developed here are excellent for photoconversion characterization and scrutinizing potential catalysts and can be extended to studying many other molecular systems. The objective of the work presented here is to demonstrate that "on demand" solar energy storage and release in MOST systems is viable and motivate future research on other photochromic organometallic systems.

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