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Frontiers in Energy

Front Energ    2011, Vol. 5 Issue (1) : 20-42
Revolutionizing heat transport enhancement with liquid metals: Proposal of a new industry of water-free heat exchangers
Haiyan LI1, Jing LIU2()
1. Key Laboratory of Cryogenics, Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Bejing 100190, China; 2. Key Laboratory of Cryogenics, Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Bejing 100190, China; Department of Biomedical Engineering, School of Medicine, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
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Water is perhaps the most widely adopted working fluid in conventional industrial heat transport engineering. However, it may no longer be the best option today due to the increasing scarcity of water resources. Furthermore, the wide variations in water supply throughout the year and across different geographic regions also makes it harder to easily access. To address this issue, finding new alternatives to replace water-based technologies is imperative. In this paper, the concept of a water-free heat exchanger is proposed and comprehensively analyzed for the first time. The liquid metal with a low melting point is identified as an ideal fluid that can flexibly be used within a wide range of working temperatures. Some liquid metals and their alloys, which have previously received little attention in thermal management areas, are evaluated. With superior thermal conductivity, electromagnetic field drivability, and extremely low power consumption, liquid metal coolants promise many opportunities for revolutionizing modern heat transport processes: serving as heat transport fluid in industries, administrating thermal management in power and energy systems, and innovating enhanced cooling in electronic or optical devices. Furthermore, comparative analyses are conducted to understand the technical barriers encountered by advanced water-based heat transfer strategies and clarify this new frontier in heat-transport study. In addition, the unique merits of liquid metals that could lead to innovative heat exchanger technologies are evaluated comprehensively. A few promising industrial situations, such as heat recovery, chip cooling, thermoelectricity generation, and military applications, where liquid metals could play irreplaceable roles, were outlined. The technical challenges and scientific issues thus raised are summarized. With their evident ability to meet various critical requirements in modern advanced energy and power industries, liquid metal-enabled technologies are expected to usher a new and global era of water-free heat exchangers.

Keywords heat exchanger      liquid metal      water resource      heat transport enhancement      coolant      thermal management      process engineering      energy crisis      chip cooling     
Corresponding Authors: LIU Jing,   
Issue Date: 05 March 2011
 Cite this article:   
Haiyan LI,Jing LIU. Revolutionizing heat transport enhancement with liquid metals: Proposal of a new industry of water-free heat exchangers[J]. Front Energ, 2011, 5(1): 20-42.
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Haiyan LI
Jing LIU
1Antarctic Desert (Antarctica)13829430
2Sahara (Africa)9100000+
3Arabian Desert (Middle East)2330000
4Gobi Desert (Asia)1300000
5Kalahari Desert (Africa)900000
6Patagonian Desert (South America)670000
7Great Victoria Desert (Australia)647000
8Syrian Desert (Middle East)520000
9Great Basin Desert (North America)492000
Tab.1  Largest deserts on earth []
Fig.1  Largest non-polar deserts on earth []
Fig.2  Appearance of water [] and liquid metal []
Fig.3  Classification of heat exchangers according to construction and process functions []
Fig.4  Typical shell-and-tube heat exchanger: (a) prototype [] and (b) profile []
Fig.5  Plate heat exchanger assemblage []
Fig.6  Examples of compact heat exchangers: (a) plate-fin heat exchangers [] and (b) tube-fin heat exchangers []
Fig.7  Heat pipe
Fig.8  Examples of polymer heat exchangers
(a) Milieupartners polymer heat exchanger [] and (b) Greenbox polymer plate units []
Passive techniquesActive techniques
Treated surfacesMechanical aids
Rough surfacesInjection of suction
Extended surfacesJet impingement
Displaced enhancement devicesSurface vibration
Swirl flow devicesFluid vibration
Surface tensionRotation
Additives for liquidsElectromagnetics
Additives for gasesElectrohydrodynamics
Tab.2  Major passive and active enhancement techniques []
Temperature /°C20Source
Pressure/Pa2,338Ref. [75]
Constant-pressure heat capacity/(J·g-1·K-1) at 100 kPa4.1818Ref. [74]
Heat of vaporization/(kJ·mol-1)43.99a)Ref. [74]
Density/(kg·cm-3)998.2071Ref. [76]
Specific weight/(kN·cm-3)9.789footnote

Water-Density and specific weight.

Surface tension/(dyn·cm-1)72.8footnote

Surface tension.

Electrical resistivity/(kΩ·m)182 b)Ref. [74]
Tab.3  Typical properties of water at room temperature
Fig.9  Distribution of earth’s water []
Fig.10  Appearance of liquid metals []
Liquid metalsMelting point/°CEvaporation point/°CEvaporation pressure/mmHgSpecific heat/(kJ·kg-1·K-1)Density/(kg·m-3)Thermal conductivity/(W·m-1·°C -1)Surface tension/(N·m-1)
Mercury-38.87356.651.68×10-3a)0.139a)13 546a)8.34a)0.455a)
Cesium 28.652023.8410-6d)0.236d)1796d)17.4d)0.248d)
Gallium 29.82204.810-120.37n)5907n)29.4n)0.707n)
Indium 156.82023.8<10-100.237030c)36.4c)0.55m)
Lithium 1861342.310-104.389b)515b)41.3b)0.405b)
Tab.4  Thermal properties of typical metals with low melting points [, -]
Fig.11  Comparison between water and liquid metals
Melting point/°C29.80
Boiling point/°C2403100
Vapour pressure/mmHg10-1217.54
Mass density/(kg·m-3)5907 a)987.7 a)
Viscosity/(mPa·s)1.2 b)1.002
Thermal conductivity/(W·m-1·°C-1)29.4a)0.6
Specific heat/(kJ·kg-1·K-1)0.37a)4.183
Surface tension/(N·m-1)0.707a)0.072
Tab.5  Selected physical and chemical properties of gallium and water under normal conditions
Fig.12  Potential application of liquid metals: (a) cellphones [], (b) super computers [], (c) steel industry [], and (d) solar concentration []
Fig.13  Liquid coolant for chip cooling []
Fig.14  Waste heat recovery boiler []
Types of devicesTemperature/°CTemperature range
Nickel refining furnace1370 - 1650High temperature range
Steel heating furnace925 - 1050
Copper reverberatory furnace900 - 1100
Glass melting furnace1000 - 1550
Hydrogen plants650 - 1000
Solid waste incinerators650 - 1000
Fume incinerators650 - 1450
Steam boiler exhaust230 - 480Medium temperature range
Gas turbine exhaust370 - 540
Reciprocating engine exhaust315 - 600
Heat treatment furnace425 - 650
Drying & baking ovens230 - 600
Catalytic crackers425 - 650
Annealing furnace cooling systems425 - 650
Process steam condensate55 - 88Low temperature range
Hot processed liquids32 - 232
Cooling water from:
Bearings32 - 88
Welding machines32 - 88
Injection molding machines32 - 88
Annealing furnaces66 - 230
Forming dies27 - 88
Internal combustion engines66 - 120
Air conditioning and refrigeration condensers32 - 43
Liquid still condensers32 - 88
Drying, baking and curing ovens93 - 230
Tab.6  Typical waste heat temperature at various ranges []
Fig.15  Sources of global electricity in 2006
Fig.16  Aerospace exploration: application of liquid metals
Fig.17  Military applications of liquid metals: (a) laser [], (b) microwave [], and (c) radar
Fig.18  Examples of thermal interface materials: (a) IBM concentrator photovoltaic cells [] and (b)βCoollaboratory liquid metalpad
Fig.19  Overview of the MEMS digital accelerometer (MDA) []
Fig.20  Thermometric scale of some liquid metals
Fig.21  Schematic diagram of laminar and turbulent flows
Fig.22  Availability of heat transfer augmentation techniques (adapted from footnote, )
Fig.23  Availability of heat transfer augmentation techniques
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