Thermal management of electronic devices using carbon foam and PCM/nano-composite (2023)

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International Journal of Thermal Sciences

Volume 89,

March 2015

, Pages 79-86

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A detailed experimental study of a hybrid composite system for thermal management (TM) of electronics devices was performed. Three different TM modules made of pure carbon foam (CF), a composite of CF and Paraffin wax (RT65) as a phase change material (PCM), and a composite of CF, RT65 and multi wall carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) as a thermal conductivity enhancer were developed and tested. Two types of carbon foam materials of different thermal conductivities, namely CF-20 of low thermal conductivity (3.1W/mK) and KL1-250 of medium thermal conductivity (40W/mK) were used in the three Modules. Tests conducted at different power densities showed a reasonable delay in reaching the heater steady state temperatures using TM module made of CF+RT65 as compared to pure CF. Heat transfer enhancement due to entrapped MWCNTs in the CF micro cells have a significant effect on the thermal response of the TM modules. The delay and decrease of heater surface temperature increase with the inclusion of MWCNTs in the TM module made of CF+RT65/MWCNTs. TM modules with enhanced thermal conductivity of carbon foam KL1-250 was shown to have good capability to control a high power loads as compared to CF-20. The effectiveness of inclusion of MWCNTs was remarkable in TM modules based on CF-20 as compared to KL1-250.


Compactness and high density of electronic circuitry in high-performance chips leads to tremendous heat dissipations rate [1]. Overheating of electronic devices and chips reduces system performance and may lead to device failure. Mean-time-to-failure, increases exponentially with temperature [2], [3] and this means that a small difference in operating temperature can result in a failure or a reduction in the life time of electronic devices. This heat dissipated has to be released/offset by efficient cooling system to maintain safe operating temperatures. A major challenge in the field of microelectronics and semiconductors is the thermal management (TM) of denser electronics devices/chips to maintain its performance and reliability. This challenge leads to a growing need to develop more effective thermal management (dissipation and storage/offset of heat release) system for such electronic devices. Using thermal energy storage systems for thermal management of electronic devices of high heat densities and cyclic temperature variations can be considered as a critical issue in the design of such devices.

Phase change cooling have emerged as a widely researched technique for thermal management of high heat fluxes in electronics due to its high latent heat storage. In this system thermal energy during transient high power load can be stored within the phase change material (PCM) and subsequently rejected to the ambient over extended periods maintaining a nearly uniform temperatures of critical components [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]. Cooling of outdoor telecommunications enclosures, portable systems and processor chips employing transient power management features are possible applications of thermal management of electronic systems using PCM.

The improvement of operational performance of portable electronics was indicated when such a passive thermal storage device was used. Numerical study of natural convection-dominated melting of PCM inside a rectangular enclosure from three discrete heat sources was conducted by Binet and Lacroix [11]. Evans etal. [12] analyzed thermal management of power electronic packages and provided design guidelines relating the materials, geometry, power input and junction temperature for steady-state conditions and transient pulses. Andrija Stupar etal. [13] developed an optimization procedure for designing a hybrid air cooled heat sink containing PCM for a power electronic device that yielding a maximum possible temperature reduction for a given application. Kamal El Omari etal. [14] numerically analyzed a passive cooling system using enclosures with different geometries filled with thermal conductivity-enhanced phase change material (PCM). The computational results showed the high impact of varying geometry. Sabuj Mallik etal. [15] reviewed the state-of-the-art in thermal management materials which may be applicable to an automotive electronic control unit (ECU). This review showed that of the different materials currently available, the Al/SiC composites in particular had very good potential for ECU application. Yi-Hsien Wang etal. [16] conducted transient three-dimensional heat transfer numerical simulations to investigate a hybrid phase change materials (PCM) based multi-fin heat sink showing that the operating temperature can be controlled well by the attendance of phase change material and the longer melting time can be conducted by using a multi-fin hybrid heat sink respectively.

The above literature showed that most of the TM methods used PCMs or PCMs with conductive additives as heat transfer enhancers. The desired temperature control required for the targeted heat management application was achieved using the latent heat storage ability of PCMs and accordingly a PCM with suitable thermo-physical properties was selected. The present work is focused on the design of a novel composite material for TM system with particular significance for thermal protection of electronics against high density power loads. A composite of paraffin wax (PW) and multi wall carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) infiltrated in carbon foam (CF) micro structure hybrid composite has been developed and tested for TM of electronic devices under different uniform power levels. In this composite the CF has been used as a support structure for the composite due to its high thermal conductivity which leads to an efficient TM system. Two types of carbon foams of different thermal conductivities have been used as base structure of the new composite system. To investigate the performance of the new composite, pure carbon foam and a composite of carbon foam and Paraffin wax have been also tested as a thermal management system of electronic equipment.

Section snippets

Basic materials

Three materials have been used to form the composites in the present study; namely Carbon Foam (CF) a support structure for the composite, pure paraffin wax (RT65) as a PCM and multi walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) as a heat transfer enhancer. Two types of Carbon foam of different thermal conductivities: CF-20 is partially graphitized carbon foam developed by Touchstone Research Laboratory, Ltd. USA, and KL1-250, supplied by Koppers Inc., USA. The thermo-physical properties of CF-20, KL1-250

Experimental setup

The experimental apparatus has been designed to provide a consistent and controllable/measured set of conditions under which TM modules samples have been tested and evaluated. Fig.6 shows a schematic diagram of the test rig. A TM module enclosure with a size of 50×50×40.5mm has been machined from aluminum of 1.2mm wall thickness. Thermal power is supplied to the sample by a heater block assembly that consists of a 120W mica heater element having a size of 40×40 mm and 6mm thick. The

TM modules with CF-20 foam as a base structure

Fig.8 shows the transient and steady state temperature response of the three TM Modules (Pure CF-20, CF+RT65 composite and CF+RT65/MWCNTs composite) at a uniform power input of 30W. Typical trends were obtained for other power levels, namely 18 and 24W. The thermal response of pure CF-20 Module (Fig.8(a)) is characterized by two stages. The first stage is an initial transient stage with an approach to the steady state condition until reaching the steady state condition in the second


A detailed experimental study of hybrid thermal management composite systems was performed for thermal control and protection of electronic devices. Carbon foam was used as a base structure for TM modules due to its high thermal conductivity. Two types of carbon foam samples of different thermal conductivities, namely CF-20 of low thermal conductivity (3.1W/mK) and KL1-250 of medium thermal conductivity (40W/mK) were tested. Three TM modules of pure CF, CF+RT65 and CF+RT65/MWCNTs


This work was supported by the French government via the cultural section of the French Embassy in Egypt and the Institut de Mécanique et d'Ingénierie – Bordeaux – France.

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    C/C composite, carbon nanotube and paraffin wax hybrid systems for the thermal control of pulsed power in electronics



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  • Kamal El Omari et al.

    Impact of shape of container on natural convection and melting inside enclosures used for passive cooling of electronic devices

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There are more references available in the full text version of this article.

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  • Safety issue on PCM-based battery thermal management: Material thermal stability and system hazard mitigation

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    Although lithium-ion batteries are increasingly being used to achieve cleaner energy, their thermal safety is still a major concern, particularly in the fields of energy-storage power stations and electric vehicles with high energy-storage density. Therefore, the battery thermal management systems (BTMs) have been extensively applied, among which phase-change-material (PCM)-based BTMs are being developed at a high growth rate. As highlighted here, because of the risk of battery thermal hazards such as thermal runaway or battery fires, meeting the prerequisites of PCM-based BTMs is imperative not only for aiding in heat dissipation in regular operation conditions, but also for facilitating thermal hazard mitigation in the case of extreme accidents. The thermo-physical properties of modified PCMs are compared, highlighting their thermal stability and flame retardancy. Structure-enhanced PCM-based BTMs are compared in terms of their structural design for hazard mitigation. Finally, future research directions based on critical thinking are proposed for the use of PCM-based BTMs in system resilience. We anticipate that this review will provide new insights and draw more attention to the material/system reliability of self-safety PCM-based BTMs in future designs, especially in terms of thermal safety issues.

  • Melting performance of a composite bio-based phase change material: An experimental evaluation of copper foam pore size

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    This paper presents an experimental study on the thermal performance of a composite heat sink consisting of a bio-based phase change material and copper foam. The experiments are carried out at three different heat loads (10, 15, and 20W) using five copper metal foam samples with the same dimensions (10×9×0.3cm), porosity (98%), and pore densities of 20, 35, 60, 80, and 95 pores per inch (PPI). The thermal performances are evaluated using the temperature profiles, the time required to reach specific temperatures, and the enhancement ratios of the heat sinks. The results favor the PCM-Copper composite sample with 95 PPI because it took the longest time to achieve a constant temperature when compared to its other pore density counterparts. Also, for the same sample under 20W power input, the enhancement ratios are 1.29, 1.45, and 1.23 at critical temperatures of 50, 55, and 60°C, respectively.

  • Evaluation of carbon based-supporting materials for developing form-stable organic phase change materials for thermal energy storage: A review

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    This paper thoroughly reviews the development and characterization of carbon-based form stable organic phase change materials (FS-OPCMs) for latent heat storage applications. The O-PCMs such as paraffin, fatty acids, polyethylene glycols (PEGs), etc., suffer from poor thermal conductivity and flow ability in their molten state, which restricts their many applications. Carbon-based materials are seen as a promising and viable way to overcome these challenges. They have a very high thermal conductivity and can hold liquid phase change materials (PCMs) in their pores. This review provides comprehensive coverage of the carbon structures and their classifications, including carbon nanotubes (CNT), carbon nanofiber (CNF), expanded graphite (EG), graphene, graphene oxide (GO), carbonized industrial solid wastes, and other carbon-based materials that can be used as supporting porous materials in developing FS-OPCMs for thermal energy storage (TES) applications. In addition, the thermal and chemical performance of carbon-based FS-OPCMs is extensively investigated and given. The applications of such composites are also discussed and summarized. Finally, the potential of these materials for thermal energy storage is presented. This review provides an in-depth insight into the potential of carbon-based materials for latent heat thermal energy storage (LHTES).

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