ORNL material could help pilots keep their cool

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Staying cool under fire could take on a new meaning with a personal cooling system being developed at the Department of Energys Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The system takes advantage of high thermal conductivity graphite foam, an ORNL material that boasts thermal conductivity five times greater than aluminum. As envisioned by James Klett of ORNLs Metals and Ceramics Division, the system would provide chilled air to circulate within the suit and helmet of a fighter pilot.

"Our proposed system would enhance the performance of a persons natural cooling mechanisms," said Klett, who led a team that developed the thermally conductive graphite foam. "Instead of simply cooling the skin through a uniform, our approach would remove heat from the body surface and provide cooled air to breathe."

While the initial use is expected to be for fighter pilots, developers envision the system being highly desirable for race car drivers, firefighters, hazardous materials workers and others who have to contend with protective clothing and hot working environments.

"In addition to these conditions being dangerous to these people, the heat can substantially degrade a persons effectiveness," Klett said. "And we are working with the racing industry to develop a system geared toward drivers needs."

Researchers note that their system would not have the disadvantages of existing microclimate control technologies. Some circulate chilled air or chilled water throughout the suit while others use a phase-change material inside a specially designed suit.

"The main drawbacks of these systems are their large power requirements and poor thermal coupling to the user," Klett said. "Our system should overcome these difficulties."

One of the innovations is respiratory cooling, which Klett believe has great potential to supplement or replace other cooling methods. The lungs, Klett notes, have a very high surface area and a ver

Contact: Ron Walli
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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