Purdue University Graduate School

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posted on 2023-07-26, 19:11 authored by Kalind BarayaKalind Baraya, Justin A. Weibel, Suresh V. Garimella


Heat pipes and vapor chambers are passive two-phase heat transport devices that are used for thermal management in electronics. The passive operation of a heat pipe is facilitated by capillary wicking of the working fluid through a porous wick, and thus is subject to an operational limit in terms of the maximum pressure head that the wick can provide. This operational limit, often termed as the capillary limit, is the maximum heat input at which the pressure drop in the wick is balanced by the maximum capillary pressure head; operating a heat pipe or a vapor chamber above the capillary limit at steady-state leads to dryout. It thus becomes important to predict the performance of heat pipes and vapor chambers and explore the parametric design space to provide guidelines for minimized thermal resistance while satisfying this capillary limit. An increasingly critical aspect is to predict the transient thermal response of vapor chambers. Moreover, heat pipes and vapor chambers are extensively being used in electronic systems where the power input is dictated by the end-user activity and is expected to even exceed the capillary limit for brief time intervals. Thus, it is imperative to understand the behavior of heat pipes and vapor chambers when operated at steady and transient heat loads above the capillary limit as dryout occurs. However, review of the literature on heat pipe performance characterization reveals that the regime of dryout operation has been virtually unexplored, and thus this thesis aims to fill this critical gap in understanding.

The design for minimized thermal resistance of a vapor chamber or a heat pipe is guided by the relative contribution of thermal resistance due to conduction across the evaporator wick and the saturation temperature gradient in the vapor core. In the limit of very thin form factors, the contribution from the vapor core thermal resistance dominates the overall thermal resistance of the vapor chamber; recent work has focused on working fluid selection to minimize overall thermal resistance in this limit. However, the wick thermal resistance becomes increasingly significant as its thickness increases to support higher heat inputs while avoiding the capillary limit. A thermal resistance network model is thus utilized to investigate the importance of simultaneously considering the contributions of the wick and vapor core thermal resistances. A generalized approach is proposed for vapor chamber design which allows simultaneous selection of the working fluid and wick that provides minimum overall thermal resistance for a given geometry and operating condition. While the thermal resistance network model provides a convenient method for exploring the design space, it cannot be used to predict 3-D temperature fields in the vapor chamber. Moreover, such thermal resistance network models cannot predict transient performance and temperature evolution for a vapor chamber. Therefore, an easy-to-use approach is proposed for mapping of vapor chamber transport to the heat diffusion equation using a set of appropriately defined effective anisotropic thermophysical properties, thus allowing simulation of vapor chamber as a sold conduction block. This effective anisotropic properties approach is validated against a time-stepping analytical model and is shown to have good match for both spatial and transient temperature predictions.

Moving the focus from steady-state and transient operation of vapor chambers, a comprehensive characterization of heat pipe operation above capillary limit is performed. Different user needs and device workloads can lead to highly transient heat loads which could exceed the notional capillary limit for brief time intervals. Experiments are performed to characterize the transient thermal response of a heat pipe subjected to heat input pulses of varying duration that exceed the capillary limit. Transient dryout events due to a wick pressure drop exceeding the maximum available capillary pressure can be detected from an analysis of the measured temperature signatures. It is discovered that under such transient heating conditions, a heat pipe can sustain heat loads higher than the steady-state capillary limit for brief periods of time without experiencing dryout. If the heating pulse is sufficiently long as to induce transient dryout, the heat pipe may experience an elevated steady-state temperature even after the heat load is reduced back to a level lower than the capillary limit. The steady-state heat load must then be reduced to a level much below the capillary limit to fully recover the original thermal resistance of the heat pipe. The recovery process of heat pipes is further investigated, and a mechanism is proposed for the thermal hysteresis observed in heat pipe performance after dryout. A model for steady-state heat pipe transport is developed based on the proposed mechanism to predict the parametric trends of thermal resistance following recovery from dryout-induced thermal hysteresis, and the model is mechanistically validated against experiments. The experimental characterization of the recovery process demonstrates the existence of a maximum hysteresis curve, which serves as the worst-case scenario for thermal hysteresis in heat pipe after dryout. Based on the learnings from the experimental characterization, a new procedure is introduced to experimentally characterize the steady-state dryout performance of a heat pipe.

To recover the heat pipe performance under steady-state, it has been shown that the heat input needs to be lowered down or throttled significantly below the capillary limit. However, due to the highly transient nature of power dissipation from electronic devices, it becomes imperative to characterize heat pipe recovery from dryout under transient operations. Hence, power-throttling assisted recovery of heat pipe from dryout has been characterized under transient conditions. A minimum throttling time interval, defined as time-to-rewet, is identified to eliminate dryout induced thermal hysteresis using power throttling. Dependence of time-to-rewet on throttling power is explored, and guidelines are presented to advise the throttling need and choice of throttling power under transient conditions. 

The experimental characterization of heat pipe operation at pulse loads above the capillary limit and power throttling following the pulse load helped define the dryout and recovery performance of a heat pipe. Next, a physics-based model is developed to predict the heat pipe transient thermal response under dryout-inducing pulse load and power throttling assisted recovery. This novel model considers wick as a partially saturated media with spatially and temporally varying liquid saturation, and accounts for the effect of wick partial saturation in heat pipe transport. The model prediction are validated against experiments with commercial heat pipe samples, and it is shown that the model can accurately predict dryout and recovery characteristics, namely time-to-dryout, time-to-rewet, and dryout-induced thermal hysteresis, for heat pipes with a range of wick types, heat pipe lengths and pulse loads above the capillary limit. 

The work discussed in this thesis opens certain questions that are expected to guide further research in this area. First, the thermal hysteresis mechanism proposed could be further validated with direct visualization of the liquid in a vapor chamber. To achieve this, X-ray microscopy is proposed as a viable option for the imaging in situ wetting dynamics in a vapor chamber. Second, the model developed to predict the dryout and recovery characteristics of the heat pipe can be used to design heat pipe with improved performance under pulse loads and power throttling. Third, novel wick designs can be explored that utilize the understanding developed of governing mechanisms for recovery from dryout, and can eliminate thermal hysteresis at powers closer to capillary limit. Fourth, the modeling approach can be extended to predict dryout and recovery trends in vapor chamber since the heat transfer pathways in a vapor chamber are different than those of a heat pipe. Fifth, and lastly it was observed several times during experiments that some of the heat pipe samples would exhibit complete dryout (sudden catastrophic rise in temperature and thermal resistance at the point of dryout) whereas other samples would exhibit partial dryout (noticeable but small increase in thermal resistance at dryout) at operating powers just above the capillary limit. Exploring and explaining the cause of complete dryout, in particular, would be an extremely valuable contribution to the heat pipe research. 

The work discussed in this thesis has led to the comprehensive development of a functional and mechanistic understanding of heat pipe operation above the notional capillary limit. The experimental procedures developed in this work are utilized to characterize a heat pipe performance under dryout and recovery. The models based on the mechanistic understanding developed from experimental characterization of dryout and recovery operation of a heat pipe have been experimentally validated and are useful for predicting heat pipe performance under dryout-inducing pulse loads and power-throttling.   


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Mechanical Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Justin Weibel

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Suresh Garimella

Additional Committee Member 2

Partha Mukherjee

Additional Committee Member 3

Shripad Revankar