Heat Pipe Characteristics

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Revision as of 19:57, 12 March 2014

 Related Topics Catalog
Historical Development of Heat Pipes

Operation Principles of Heat Pipes

Types of Heat Pipes

Working Fluids and Temperature Ranges of Heat Pipes

Capillary Wick Designs and Structures in Heat Pipes

Heat Transfer Limitations of Heat Pipes

Heat pipe Start Up

Heat Pipe Characteristics

Heat Pipe Analysis and Simulation

Heat Pipe Applications


High Effective Thermal Conductivity

The heat pipe is a device of very high thermal conductance [1]. For example, a temperature difference of 900°C is needed to transfer 1 KW heat across a 30-mm-diameter 1-m-long copper rod. A heat pipe of the same size can transfer the same amount of heat with a temperature difference of less than 10°C. This indicates that the heat pipe can have a thermal conductivity 90 times higher than that of a copper bar of the same size. Numerous heat pipe designs have been developed for various applications with varied heat transport capabilities.

Heat transfer characteristics of some typical commercial copper-water screen mesh heat pipes.
Figure 1: Heat transfer characteristics of some typical commercial copper-water screen mesh heat pipes.

The heat transfer characteristics of a heat pipe can be measured using a conventional configuration as shown in Fig. 1(a). Figure 1(b) shows the heat transfer rate versus the mean temperature difference between the evaporator and condenser sections of commercially available copper-water heat pipes with a screen mesh wick and different diameters. Most of the tests were made in a vertical position (gravity-assisted wicked heat pipe), where the driving force is due to both capillary pumping and gravity. A typical test for horizontal operation, as well as a comparison with a copper rod of 24.5 mm OD, are also shown in Fig. 1(b).

Transient response of a typical copper-water heat pipe compared to a copper pipe of the same dimensions.
Figure 2: Transient response of a typical copper-water heat pipe compared to a copper pipe of the same dimensions.

The thermal response of a conventional commercial screen mesh copper-water heat pipe with 6.35 mm OD and an inner diameter of 5.85 mm in comparison with a copper pipe of the same dimension is shown in Fig. 2. There are commercial companies all over the world (with more concentration in the Far East) who manufacture heat pipes of different shapes and sizes for various operating temperature ranges. A typical commercial off-the-shelf performance characteristic for several copper water heat pipes (Fujikura, Ltd) is presented in Fig. 3.

Maximum heat transfer rate and thermal resistance of several commercially available copper-water heat pipes with fine fiber wicks for horizontal operation with L=300 mm, Le=50 mm and Lc = 250 mm.
Figure 3: Maximum heat transfer rate and thermal resistance of several commercially available copper-water heat pipes with fine fiber wicks for horizontal operation with L=300 mm, Le=50 mm and Lc = 250 mm.

Three of the important design parameters that are used to compare heat pipes and other two-phase thermal devices are the thermal resistance, the axial heat transport capacity (W-m) and the maximum radial heat flux at evaporator (W/cm²). Table 5 presents typical experimental operating values reported in literature for a number of heat pipes tested under various operating conditions. The operating temperature, wick design, wall material and dimensions of the heat pipes tested are listed in this table. Also, the axial heat transport rate (W), axial heat transport capability (W-m) and the radial heat flux (W/cm²) are given. The radial heat flux or axial heat transport values reported may not necessarily be the limiting values.

Thermal Transformer

The heat pipe can be effectively used as a thermal transformer to link energy sources and sinks having different heat fluxes. Energy can be added at a high heat flux rate to the heat pipe over a small surface area and removed over a larger surface area at a lower heat flux, or vice versa. Thermal flux transformation ratios as large as 15 to 1 can be achieved using heat pipes.

Power Flattening

A heat pipe that provides power flattening can be easily designed. A constant output heat flux at the condenser can be maintained for variations in the input heat flux in the evaporator section.

Temperature Control

By actively determining the conditions at the condenser (sink), a heat pipe can be designed to keep a nearly constant temperature at the evaporator even though the rate of heat input to evaporator varies. This is the basis for the variable conductance heat pipe which is discussed by Faghri [1]. The gas-loaded heat pipe, in which a noncondensible gas and a gas reservoir are constructed with a conventional heat pipe, is the simplest means to actively determine the conditions at the condenser.

Freedom of Design

Since the basic mechanisms of a heat pipe are the capillary pumping of a wick and the evaporation and condensation of a working fluid, heat pipe design is only restricted by the need to provide for these mechanisms. With this in mind, heat pipes can be designed so that they fit various shapes and configurations. These geometries range from simple cylindrical or flat heat pipes, to curved plate heat pipes for solar collectors and leading edge heat pipes.


Since heat pipes are a closed systems and do not need any external electrical or mechanical drives, they can operate over long periods of time without maintenance.

Table 5 Some typical experimental heat pipe results
Working Fluid
Operating Temperature
Wick Design
Wall Material
Axial Heat Transport (W)
Axial Heat Transport Capability (W-m)
Radial Heat Flux (W/cm2)



Circumferential mesh wick and arterial wick

Stainless steel

Lt = 0.4 m

Le = 3 cm

Lc = 11.5 cm

Di = 7 mm




Rosler et al. [2]





Lt = 5.5 m

Le = 0.91 m

Lc = 0.91 m

Dv = 13.4 mm

Dl = 6.32 mm

slot width = 0.381 mm




Alario et al. (1982)[3]



Axial grooves


Outer pipe same as above; Inner pipe:

Do = 29.7 mm

Di = 25.4 mm



Inner pipe: 2.32

Outer pipe: 1.47

Faghri and Thomas (1989) (annular heat pipe)[4]


50, 70, 80°C

3 wraps of a copper wire screen mesh with a wire diameter of 0.11 mm and 3937 strands per meter


Do = 19.05 mm

Di = 15.75 mm

Lt = 355.6 mm

Le = 101.6 mm

Lc = 152.4 mm




Kempers et al. (2008)[5]



Micro capillary grooves (trapezoidal and rectangular)


Lt = 120.65 mm

W = 13.41 mm

Le = 15.6 mm

Lc = 34.4 mm

La = 70 mm

130 (horizontal)

170 (vertical)



90 (horizontal)

150 (vertical)

Hopkins et al. (1999) [6]



Circumferential copper screen (50 mesh)


L = 1.0 m

Le = (4)@6.4 cm

Lc = 30 cm

Dv = 25.4 mm

Di = 22 mm




Faghri and Buchko (1991) (multiple evaporators) [7]



Axial grooves

Copper with rectangular cross section

Lt = 120 mm

H = 2 mm

W = 7 mm

Le = 20 mm

Lc = 20 mm




Plesch et al. (1991) [8]



Copper wick, 150 mesh


Do = 19.1 mm

Di = 17.3 mm

Lt = 610 mm

Le = 393 mm

Lc = 170 mm




El-Genk and Huang (1993) [9]


Axial rectangular grooves


Lt = 82 mm



Cao et al. (1997) [10]


100 °C

Axial rectangular grooves


Lt = 120 mm

W = 7 mm

H = 3 mm

50 (horizontal)

70 (vertical)

25 (horizontal)

35 (vertical)

Gao et al. (2000) [11]



Double-wall artery


Lt = 1.2 m

Le = 0.2 m

Lc = 0.2 m

Dv = 13.4 mm

Do = 22.2 mm




Faghri et al. (1984) [12]

Therminol VP-1



316-stainless steel

Do = 15.8 mm

Di = 6 mm

Lt = 209 mm

Le = 45 mm

Lc = 100 mm




Jouhara and Robinson (2009) [13]

Sulfur-Iodine 5% wt



Mild steel

Do = 25 mm

Di = 20 mm

Lt = 1000 mm

Le = 400 mm

Lc = 550 mm




Trovole and Raine [14]

Working Fluid
Operating Temperature
Wick Design
Wall Material
Axial Heat Transport (W)
Axial Heat Transport Capability (W-m)
Radial Heat Flux (W/cm2)



Circumferential stainless steel screen (100 mesh)

Stainless steel

Lt = 1.0 m

Le = (4)@5.3 cm

Lc = 29.2 cm

Do = 26.7 mm

Di = 21.5 mm




Faghri et al. (1991a) (multiple evaporators) [15]



Nickel sintered powder metal wick and an artery

Stainless steel

Do = 21.3 mm

Di = -

Lt = 460 mm

Le = 100 mm

Lc = 160 mm

Lc,inactive = 100 mm




Yamawaki et al. (1998) [16]



Double-wall artery

Stainless steel

Lt = 2.0 m

Le = 25 cm

Lc = 91 cm

Do = 2.22 cm




Ponnappan (1989) [17]




316L stainless steel

Do = 25.4 mm

Di = 21 mm

Lt = 1000 mm

Le = 200 mm

Lc = 640 mm




Vieira da Cunha and Mantelli (2009) [18]

NaK (with Argon as NCG)


304 stainless wick

304L stainless steel

Do = 19.1 mm

Di = -

Lt = 600 mm

Le = 114 mm

Lc,1 = 73 mm

Lc,2 = 66 mm

Lc,inactive = 50 mm




Anderson and Tarau (2008) [19]


1227°C (1500 K)

Free-floating Mo-41wt.%Re 400-mesh screen wick (0.41 mm thick)

A 0.37 mm annular gap separates the wick from the wall


Do = 19.1 mm

Di = 16.06 mm

Lt = 1800 mm

Le = 300 mm

Lc = 1470 mm




Tournier and El-Genk (2003) [20]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Faghri, A., 1995, Heat Pipe Science and Technology, 1st ed., Taylor & Francis, Washington, D.C.
  2. Rosler, S., Groll, M., Supper, W., and Konev, S., 1987, "Analysis and Experimental Investigation of a Cryogenic Methane Heat Pipe," Proceedings of the 6th International Heat Pipe Conference, Grenoble, France, 219-222.
  3. Alario, J., Haslett, R., and Kosson, R., 1982, "The Monogroove High Performance Heat Pipe," Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics, 83, 305-324.
  4. Faghri, A., and Thomas, S., 1989, "Performance Characteristics of a Concentric Annular Heat Pipe: Part I-Experimental Prediction and Analysis of the Capillary Limit," Journal of Heat Transfer, 111(1-4), 844-850. http://dx.doi.org/10.1115/1.3250795
  5. Kempers, R., Robinson, A. J., Ewing, D., and Ching, C. Y., 2008, "Characterization of Evaporator and Condenser Thermal Resistances of a Screen Mesh Wicked Heat Pipe," International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, 51(25-26), 6039-6046. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijheatmasstransfer.2008.04.001
  6. Hopkins, R., Faghri, A., and Khrustalev, D., 1999, "Flat Miniature Heat Pipes with Micro Capillary Grooves," Journal of Heat Transfer, 121(1), 102-109. http://dx.doi.org/10.1115/1.2825922
  7. Faghri, A., and Buchko, M., 1991, "Experimental and Numerical Analysis of Low-Temperature Heat Pipes with Multiple Heat Sources," Journal of Heat Transfer, 113(3), 728-734. http://dx.doi.org/10.1115/1.2910624
  8. Plesch, D., Bier, W., Seidel, D., and Schubert, K., 1991, "Miniature Heat Pipes for Heat Removal from Microelectronic Circuits," Proceedings of the ASME Winter Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA.
  9. El-Genk, M. S., and Huang, L., 1993, "An Experimental Investigation of the Transient Response of a Water Heat Pipe," International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, 36(15), 3823-3830. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0017-9310(93)90062-B
  10. Cao, Y., 1997, "A Feasibility Study of Turbine Disk Cooling by Employing Radially Rotating Heat Pipes," Final Report for Summer Faculty Research Program, Air Force Research Lab, Turbine Engine Division.
  11. Gao, M., Cao, Y., Beam, J. E., and Donovan, B., 2000, "Structural Optimization of Axially Grooved Flat Miniature Heat Pipes," Journal of Enhanced Heat Transfer, 7(6), 361-369.
  12. Faghri, A., Stewart, R. J., and Rainey, C. L., 1984, "Axial Variation of Local Heat Flux Along the Condenser Section of a Double Wall Artery High Capacity Heat Pipe," Proceedings of the 5th International Heat Pipe Conference, Tsukuba, Japan, 13-17.
  13. Jouhara, H., and Robinson, A. J., 2009, "An Experimental Study of Small-Diameter Wickless Heat Pipes Operating in the Temperature Range 200c to 450c," Heat Transfer Engineering, 30(13), 1041-1048. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01457630902921113
  14. Trovole, H. P., and Raine, J. K., 1995, "The Design and Heat Pipe Tests for a Line Focus Solar Stirling Domestic Generation System," Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part A: Journal of Power and Energy, 209(1), 27-36.
  15. Faghri, A., Buchko, M., and Cao, Y., 1991a, "A Study of High-Temperature Heat Pipes with Multiple Heat Sources and Sinks: Part I - Experimental Methodology and Frozen Startup Profiles," Journal of Heat Transfer, 113(4), 1003-1009. http://dx.doi.org/10.1115/1.2911193
  16. Yamawaki, S., Yoshida, T., Taki, M., and Mimura, F., 1998, "Fundamental Heat Transfer Experiments of Heat Pipes for Turbine Cooling," Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines and Power, 120(3), 580-587. http://dx.doi.org/10.1115/1.2818186
  17. Ponnappan, R., 1989, "Studies on the Startup Transients and Performance of a Gas Loaded Sodium Heat Pipe," Technical Report, WRDC-TR-89-2046.
  18. Vieira da Cunha, A. F., and Mantelli, M. H., 2009, "Analytical and Experimental Analysis of a High Temperature Mercury Thermosyphon," Journal of Heat Transfer, 131(9), 1-7. http://dx.doi.org/10.1115/1.3089551
  19. Anderson, W. G., and Tarau, C., 2008, "Variable conductance heat pipes for radioisotope stirling systems," Proceedings of STAIF 2008, 969, 679-688. http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.2845031
  20. Tournier, J. M., and El-Genk, M. S., 2003, "Startup of a Horizontal Lithium-Molybdenum Heat Pipe from a Frozen State," International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, 46(4), 671-685. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0017-9310(02)00324-1