2021.7.19 Srivathsan_Sudhakar_PhD_Dissertation_2021.pdf (8.92 MB)

Boiling in Capillary-Fed Porous Evaporators Subject to High Heat Fluxes

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posted on 23.07.2021, 01:52 by Srivathsan SudhakarSrivathsan Sudhakar
Thermal management in next generation power electronic devices, radar applications and semiconductor packaging architectures is becoming increasingly challenging due to the need to reject localized high heat fluxes as well as large total powers. Air cooling has been considered as a simple and reliable method for thermal management compared to architectures that incorporate liquid cooling. However, air-cooled heat sinks typically require effective heat spreading to provide the requisite level of area enhancement to dissipate high heat fluxes. Compared to solid metallic heat spreaders, advanced heat sinks that incorporate two-phase heat transfer devices such as vapor chambers can significantly enhance the power dissipation capabilities in such configurations. Vapor chambers are devices that utilize evaporation/boiling processes within a sealed cavity to achieve efficient heat spreading. In high-heat-flux applications, boiling can occur within the internal wick structure of the vapor chamber at the location of the heat input (i.e., the evaporator). The maximum dryout heat flux and thermal resistance of the device is dictated by the resulting two-phase flow and heat transfer in the porous evaporator due to boiling. While various works in the literature have introduced new evaporator wick designs to improve the dryout heat flux during boiling, the enhancement is limited to small, millimeter scale hotspots or at a very high thermal resistance. In additixon, the effective design of such evaporator systems requires mechanistic models that can accurately predict the dryout limit and thermal performance.
This thesis first explores the usage of a novel ‘two-layer’ evaporator wick for passive high heat flux dissipation over large heater areas at a low thermal resistance. Moreover, a new mechanistic (first principles based) model framework is introduced for dryout limit and thermal performance prediction during boiling in capillary fed evaporators, by considering the resulting simultaneous flow of two phases (liquid and vapor) within the microscale porous media.
The novel two-layer wick concept uses a thick ‘cap’ layer of porous material to feed liquid to a thin ‘base’ layer through an array of vertical liquid-feeding ‘posts’. Vapor ‘vents’ in the cap layer allow for vapor formed during the boiling process (which is constrained to the base layer) to escape out of the wick. This two-layer structure decouples the functions of liquid resupply and capillary-fed boiling heat transfer, making the design realize high heat flux dissipation greater than 500 W/cm2 over large heat input areas of ~1 cm2. A reduced-order model is first developed to demonstrate the performance of a vapor chamber incorporating such a two-layer evaporator wick design. The model comprises simplified hydraulic and thermal resistance networks for predicting the capillary-limited maximum heat flux and the overall thermal resistance, respectively. The reduced-order model is validated against a higher fidelity numerical model and then used to analyze the performance of the vapor chamber with varying two-layer wick geometric feature sizes. The fabrication of the proposed two-layer wick is then presented. The thermal performance of the fabricated wicks is characterized using a boiling test facility that utilizes high speed visualization to identify the characteristic regimes of boiling operation in the wicks. The performance is also benchmarked to conventional single-layer wicks.
It is observed that single-layer wicks exhibit an unfavorable boiling regime where the center of the heater area dries out locally, leading to a high value of thermal resistance. The two-layer wicks avoid local dryout due to the distributed feeding provided by the posts and enhance the dryout heat flux significantly compared to single-layer wicks. A two-layer design that consists of a 10 × 10 array of liquid feeding posts provided a 400% improvement in the dryout heat flux. Following a parametric analysis of the effect of particle size, two-layer wicks composed of 180 – 212 µm particles and a 15 × 15 array of liquid feeding posts yielded a maximum heat flux dissipation of 485 W/cm2 over a 1 cm2 heat input area while also maintaining a low thermal resistance of only ~0.052 K/W. The effect of vapor venting and liquid-feeding areas is also experimentally studied. By understanding these effects, a parametrically optimized design is fabricated and shown to demonstrate an extremely high dryout limit of 512 W/cm2. We identify that the unique area-scalability of the two-layer wick design allows it to achieve an unprecedented combination of high total power and low-thermal-resistance heat dissipation over larger areas than was previously possible in the literature.
The results from the characterization of two-layer wicks revealed that the overall performance of the design was limited by the boiling process in the thin base wick layer. A fundamental model-based understanding of the resulting two-phase flow and heat transfer process in such thin capillary-fed porous media was still lacking. This lack of a mechanistic model precluded the accurate prediction of dryout heat flux and thermal performance of the two-layer wick. Moreover, such an understanding is needed for the optimal design of advanced hybrid evaporator wicks that leverage capillary-fed boiling. Despite the existence of various experimental works, there are currently no mechanistic approaches that model this behavior. To fill this unmet need, this thesis presents a new semi-empirical model for prediction of dryout and thermal resistance of capillary-fed evaporator systems. Thermal conduction across the solid and volumetric evaporation within the pores are solved to obtain the temperature distribution in the porous structure. Capillary-driven lateral liquid flow from the outer periphery of the evaporator to its center, with vapor flow across the thickness, is considered to obtain the local liquid and vapor pressures. Experiments are conducted on sintered copper particle evaporators of different particle sizes and heater areas to collect data for model calibration. To demonstrate the wider applicability of the model for other types of porous evaporators, the model is further calibrated against a variety of dryout limit and thermal resistance data collected from the literature. The model is shown to predict the experimentally observed trends in the dryout limit with mean particle/pore size, heater size, and evaporator thicknesses. This physics–based modeling approach is then implemented into a vapor chamber model to predict the thermal performance limits of air-cooled heat sinks with embedded vapor chambers. The governing energy and momentum equations of a low-cost analytical vapor chamber modeling approach is coupled with the evaporator model to capture the effect of boiling in the evaporator wick. An example case study illustrating the usage of the model is demonstrated and compared to a purely evaporation-based modeling approach, for quantifying the differences in dryout limit prediction, signifying the need to account for boiling in the evaporator wick.
The understanding gained from this thesis can be utilized for the prediction of dryout and thermal performance during boiling in capillary limited evaporator systems. The work also suggests the usage of a universal relative permeability correlation for the two-phase flow configuration studied herein for capillary-fed boiling, based on a wide calibration to experimental data. The modeling framework can also be readily leveraged to find novel and unexplored designs of advanced evaporator wicks. From an application standpoint, the new vapor chamber model developed here can be used for the improved estimation of performance limits specifically when high heat fluxes are encountered by the device. This will enable better and informed design of air-cooled heat sink architectures with embedded vapor chambers for high performance applications.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Mechanical Engineering

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Justin A. Weibel

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Suresh V. Garimella

Additional Committee Member 2

Jong Hyun Choi

Additional Committee Member 3

Shripad Revankar