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Frontiers in Energy

Front Energ    2014, Vol. 8 Issue (1) : 49-61
Liquid metal as energy transportation medium or coolant under harsh environment with temperature below zero centigrade
Yunxia GAO1, Lei WANG1, Haiyan LI1, Jing LIU1,2()
1. Key Lab of Cryogenics and Beijing Key Lab of CryoBiomedical Engineering, Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100190, China; 2. Department of Biomedical Engineering, School of Medicine, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
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The current highly integrated electronics and energy systems are raising a growing demand for more sophisticated thermal management in harsh environments such as in space or some other cryogenic environment. Recently, it was found that room temperature liquid metals (RTLM) such as gallium or its alloys could significantly reduce the electronics temperature compared with the conventional coolant, like water, oil or more organic fluid. However, most of the works were focused on RTLM which may subject to freeze under low temperature. So far, a systematic interpretation on the preparation and thermal properties of liquid metals under low temperature (here defined as lower than 0°C) has not yet been available and related applications in cryogenic field have been scarce. In this paper, to promote the research along this important direction and to overcome the deficiency of RTLM, a comprehensive evaluation was proposed on the concept of liquid metal with a low melting point below zero centigrade, such as mercury, alkali metal and more additional alloy candidates. With many unique virtues, such liquid metal coolants are expected to open a new technical frontier for heat transfer enhancement, especially in low temperature engineering. Some innovative ways for making low melting temperature liquid metal were outlined to provide a clear theoretical guideline and perform further experiments to discover new materials. Further, a few promising applied situations where low melting temperature liquid metals could play irreplaceable roles were detailed. Finally, some main factors for optimization of low temperature coolant were summarized. Overall, with their evident merits to meet various critical requirements in modern advanced energy and power industries, liquid metals with a low melting temperature below zero centigrade are expected to be the next-generation high-performance heat transfer medium in thermal managements, especially in harsh environment in space.

Keywords liquid metal      cryogenics      low melting point      thermal management      aircraft      liquid cooling      space exploration     
Corresponding Authors: LIU Jing,   
Issue Date: 05 March 2014
 Cite this article:   
Yunxia GAO,Lei WANG,Haiyan LI, et al. Liquid metal as energy transportation medium or coolant under harsh environment with temperature below zero centigrade[J]. Front Energ, 2014, 8(1): 49-61.
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Yunxia GAO
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Fig.1  Typical cryogenic devices which can work under temperatures below zero degree centigrade
Fig.2  Photo various spacecrafts
(a) Space probe; (b) satellite; (c) manned spacecraft; (d) radar
Metal/ alloyMelting 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)13546a)8.34a)0.455a)
Galinstan- 19>1300<10 -8d)*6440a)16.50.718a)
Cesium28.652023.8410 -6c)0.236c)1796c)17.4c)0.248c)
Rubidium38.85685.736 × 10-60.363m)1470m)29.3m)0.081
Potassium63.2756.56 × 10-70.78664m)54.0m)0.103c)
Na23.3K76.7- 12.67852.5 × 10 -8c)0.9538n)855c)230.11m)
Tab.1  Thermal properties of typical metal and alloys with low melting point [-]
Fig.3  Appearance of mercury and its typical applications
(a) Physical pictures of Hg and applications of Hg; (b) mercury thermometers [];(c) mercury-vapor lamps []; (d) medicine-amalgam filling []
Fig.4  A phase diagram for GaIn alloy []
AlloysMelting point/°CAlloysMelting point/°C
Galinstan- 19GaIn29Zn413
Tab.2  Typical low-melting-point gallium alloys [-]
Fig.5  Applications of Na-K alloy in SNAP-10A reactor [] and CPU coolers []
(a) SNAP-10A reactor; (b) CPU coolers
AlloysMelting point/°CEutectic state
Cs73.71K22.14Na4.14- 78.2Yes
Cs77K23- 37.5No
Cs94.6Na5.4- 31.83Yes
K76.7Na23.3- 12.7Yes
K78Na22- 11No
Na6.2Rb93.8- 4.5Yes
Tab.3  Typical alkali metal containing alloys [,]
Fig.6  Calculated phase diagrams of the Cs-K system and comparison with the experimental data []
Fig.7  A phase diagram for a fictitious binary chemical mixture (with the two components denoted by and ) used to depict the eutectic composition, temperature, and point ( denotes liquid state.)
Fig.8  Phase diagram of NaK alloy []
MetalMaximum subcooling/°CT/Tmσ
BulkAggregates of small droplets
Tab.4  Maximum subcooling obtained in bulk and small droplets []
Fig.9  Temperature of gallium in solidifying process []
Ga/%In/%Sn/%Ag/%Bi/%Physical state
Tab.5  Compositions of a plurality of alloys and their physical state at 4°C
Fig.10  Application areas of liquid metal with a melting temperature below zero degree centigrade
(a) Unmanned aerial vehicle systems []; (b) infrared search and track sensors []; (c) missile warning receivers []; (d) satellite tracking systems []
Fig.11  Characteristics of new optimized coolants
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