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Pulse Tube Refrigerator-An Alternative Cryocooler

for Low Temperature Applications Down to 2.5K

Shafi K.A#, Mohammed Sajid N.K#, Anu Assis*, Kasthurirengan.S+
Department of Mechanical Engineering, *Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering, +Centre for Cryogenic
Technology, # *University of Kerala.
*TKM College of Engineering, Kollam, Kerala, India
Institute of Science, Bangalore 560012, India
#,, *,
achieved by addition of a buffer volume and an orifice to
produce the phase shift between mass flow rate and pressure
Abstract A two-stage Pulse Tube Cryocooler (PTC) is developed
with a no-load temperature of 2.5K in the second stage and 67K
in the first stage at an operating frequency of 1.6Hz. The system
gives a cooling power of 250 mW at 5K in the second stage. of the working fluid.[2]. Using staging one can achieve liquid
Several PTCs have been experimentally studied by varying the helium temperatures.
dimensions of the pulse tubes and the regenerators, as well as the Research in this field is very much active to understand the
regenerator materials to arrive at the best configuration. Studies fundamental cooling mechanisms of PTCs which will lead to
conducted with several configurations indicate that the Pulse further technological breakthroughs. With this aim, this paper
Tube dimensions are more critical compared to those of discusses in detail, the design and development of a two-stage
regenerator to achieve low temperatures. Also the system pulse tube cryocooler, which is able to reach 2.5K and
performance improved with the proper design of cold end heat provides a refrigeration power of 250 mW at 5 K. Several
exchangers with minimum flow impedance. These results along
PTCs have been experimentally studied by varying the
with cooling power characteristics of the cryocooler are discussed
in this paper. dimensions of the pulse tubes and the regenerators, as well as
the regenerator materials to arrive at the best configuration.
Keywords-- Cooling power, Cryocooler, Pulse tube, regenerator,
The schematic of two-stage pulse tube refrigerator is shown
I. INTRODUCTION in Fig.1 in which the cold end of the first stage regenerator
The need of cryogenic temperatures in various applications forms the warm end of the second stage regenerator. Both
has resulted in a significant development in the area of pulse tubes and the warm end of first stage regenerator are
cryocoolers. Of these, Pulse Tube Cryocoolers have the connected to the top flange of the system. The pulse tubes and
advantages of being reliable, with low vibration levels due to the regenerator housings are made of thin wall stainless steel
absence of moving components at cold end and hence are tubes (wall ~0.5mm). The first stage regenerator is made with
being considered for various applications such as cooling of stainless steel meshes (size 200) along with lead (Pb) granules
sensors, superconducting magnets, cryopumping, (average grain size ~250µ m) up to about 15% by volume
recondensation of evaporating helium etc. Staging of pulse towards the cold end. On the other hand, combinations of Pb
tubes is generally adopted to achieve lower temperatures. and magnetic materials such as Er3Ni or HoCu2 (average grain
Since the discovery of Pulse Tube refrigeration by Gifford and size 250µ m) in different volume percentage ratios are used to
Longsworth in 1964 [1], many developments have occurred build the second stage regenerator.
[2]-[10] over the years resulting in commercial PTCs in the
market as on date. Basic pulse tube cryocooler, the original The cold end heat exchangers for first stage and second
version developed by Gifford and Longsworth consist of a stage are appropriately designed to give best performance.
reciprocating compressor, a pulse tube with heat exchangers at The cold end heat exchangers at the bottom of the pulse tube
both ends, a regenerator connected to the compressor. During are fabricated from electrolytic grade of copper. Two distinct
compression stroke, gas moves towards the closed end of designs have been chosen in this regard. In the first
pulse tube refrigerator via regenerator. The gas gets cooled in design(Hole type), a solid cylindrical copper block having
the regenerator, while in pulse tube it gets heated due to several holes of 1.5mm diameter within the central radius of
adiabatic compression. During high pressure period the gas 19mm is used. In the second design (Slit type), a special
rejects heat to the hot end heat exchanger. During expansion flanged copper part is fabricated wherein small diameter
stroke gas flows out of the pulse tube through the regenerator. copper cylinders having either large number of holes or slits
The cycle results in an average enthalpy flow from the cold can be fitted to enable high heat transfer. Both slit type heat
end to the hot end which establishes a constant temperature exchangers as well as those with holes as shown in Plate 1 and
gradient in the pulse tube and provides continuous Plate 2, have been experimented in our studies and it was
refrigeration effect. Significant improvements have been observed that the former performed better than the latter.
Heat dissipation at the warm end heat exchangers is
accomplished by the convective cooling at ambient by the mode as shown in Plate 3. The flow coefficients of these
finned structure provided at their outer surfaces. valves are in the range 0.03.

Plate 1. Slit type heat exchanger

Plate 3.Anti parallel arrangement of DI Valves

To LP 7 To LP
13 12 12 13
10 10
11 11
6 6

Plate 2. Hole type heat exchanger 2 3 1

Water-cooled helium compressors of capacities 3 kW and

6kW (LEYBOLD, COOLPAK 6000) along with an
indigenously developed rotary valve are used for obtaining the
pressure pulses. The rotary valve uses a synchronous motor 4 14
(Make: Bautz, Model:SY60-3437-025A3) with a Rulon
component mounted on its shaft. When the motor rotates, the
latter connects alternately the high and low pressures of the 5
Helium compressor to the pulse tube side, thereby generating
the pressure waveform. The frequency of these pressure Fig.1. Schematic of Experimental Setup
oscillations can be varied using an inverter drive (Make:
Integrated Systems, Model: INVAC). The pressure waveform 1.1st stage pulse tube, 2. 2nd stage pulse tube, 3.1st stage
at the inlet of the PTC is monitored by using pressure Regenerator, 4.2nd stage Regenerator, 5.cold end heat
transducers (Siemens, KPY47). Data acquisition of various exchanger, 6. Hot end heat exchanger, 7. Compressor, 8.
parameters such as temperatures and pressures is carried out Rotary valve, 9. Hot end heat exchangers 10. Buffer, 11.
by a LabVIEW based program along with IEEE interface. Orifice valve, 12. Double Inlet valves in anti parallel mode,
13. DC flow valve 14. Vacuum jacket.)
The system uses buffer volumes of 1 litre and 0.5 litre for The room temperature seals are made by Neoprene O-rings,
the first and second stages respectively. These are connected while the low temperature seals with Indium. Temperatures
to the hot ends of the pulse tubes of the corresponding stages of different locations in the PTC are measured with both
through the respective orifice valves as shown in Fig.1. platinum resistance thermometers (PT500) and with pre-
Needle valves (Swagelok, M-series) are used as orifice, calibrated Silicon diode sensors (Lakeshore, DT470 and
double inlet (DI) and DC flow valves to create the necessary Scientific Instruments, SI410) and Gallium-Aluminium
phase shifts. The DI valves are connected in anti parallel arsanide diode (TG 120).
heat exchanger and measuring the steady stage temperature
reached. The second stage cooling power characteristics of



Configuration 8
1st Stage
2nd Stage

100 59.5K
0 100 200 300 400 500
TIME (Min)
Fig.5. Comparison of cooling power characteristics for different

Refrigeration Power Characteristics
For Configurations 1 to 9
Plate 4. Typical Pulse tube refrigerator assembly
20 2
The pulse tube and regenerator housings are made of thin 4
wall stainless steel tubes (typical wall thickness 0.5mm) and 5
end in flanged construction. The typical dimensions of pulse 10 6
tube have been chosen to be 14mm, 19mm and 25mm. The 8
length of the pulse tube is either 200mm or 265mm. The 9
second stage pulse tube is made up of thin walled stainless 0 1 2 3 4 5
steel tube. The diameter is chosen as 14mm or 19mm.The Refrigeration Power (W)
entire pulse tube system is instrumented, insulated and Fig.6. Refrigeration power characteristics for configurations 1 to 9.
mounted inside a vacuum jacket. This is evacuated by a
vacuum pumping system. The photograph of the typically some specific pulse tube configurations (listed in TABLE 1)
instrumented two-stage pulse tube system is shown in Plate4. are shown in Fig. 3. Configuration 7, which uses Er3Ni and
Several configurations with varied dimensions of Pulse Tubes Pb as second stage regenerator materials has a no-load
and regenerators have been studied temperature of ~3.4 K and gives a cooling power of 250 mW
at ~6K. On the other hand configuration 8 which uses HoCu2
III.EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS and Pb, leads to a no-load temperature of 2.5 K and gives a
cooling power of 250 mW at ~5K. However, the performance
A. Cool-down Behaviour
of this configuration is poor at heat loads greater than 2W
The typical cool down behavior of the first and second when compared to configurations 2, 3, and 4.
stage cold heads of the pulse tube system for the best
configuration 8 is shown in Fig. 5. In this case, the steady In general, it is observed that the performances of the
state no-load temperatures achieved are ~2.5 K and ~60 K at configurations (for example 8 and 9) are poorer for higher
the second and first stage cold heads respectively. Typically, cooling powers, when compared to those with higher Pb
the second stage cold head reaches around 4K in about 200 percentage.
minutes and the ultimate temperature of 2.5 K is reached in
nearly 450 minutes. C. Effect of dimensions of pulse tubes and regenerators on
the cold end temperatures
B. Cooling Power Characteristics
In our experimental studies, the materials and methods used
The cooling power characteristics of the pulse tube system for the fabrication of pulse tubes and regenerators of different
are measured by applying a known heat load to the heater dimensions are kept the same. Since the design of cold end
(Manganin wire of resistance 30 ohms) wound on the cold end heat exchangers of different configurations and the other
mounted components are identical, this enables the
comparison of different PTC configurations to obtain (d) Comparing configurations 7 and 8, it is observed that use
qualitative information on the effect of dimensional changes of HoCu2 in place of Er3Ni leads to lowering of cold end
as well as the regenerator material/ structure on the cold end temperatures and improved cooling power performances.
temperatures. The following are some of the observations
from the experimental data. IV. CONCLUSIONS
(a) The effect of the first stage regenerator length on its cold In this work, several configurations of two stage Pulse
end temperature appears to be minimal. This is by Tube Cryocoolers have been studied, by varying the
comparing the configurations 1 and 2. Although the dimensions of Pulse Tubes and regenerators (of both stages)
regenerator length is increased by 40 mm, the first stage as well as by modifying the regenerator materials (especially
temperature changes only by about 4K. for the second stage) to arrive at the best configuration, which
(b) On the other hand, the length of the first stage pulse tube leads to the lowest possible temperature. Studies clearly
appears to have a significant effect on its cold end indicate the need for magnetic materials such as Er 3Ni, HoCu2
temperature. Comparison of configurations 3 and 4 for the second stage regenerator to achieve low temperatures.
shows that the increase in pulse tube length by 70 mm Systems with HoCu2 performed better than those with
leads to a decrease in the first stage cold end temperature Er3Ni.The performance of hole type design of heat exchanger
from 74K to 60K. is found to be better than slit type design. The antiparallel
(c) When configurations 5 and 6 are compared, one observes double inlet valve configuration PTCs performed better than
that the decrease in pulse tube diameter from 14 to 10 mm those with DC flow arrangements.
has significantly increased the 2nd stage temperature from
24.4K to 59.5K.

PT - Pulse Tube, Reg – Regenerator, D - Diameter, L – Length, SS - Stainless Steel meshes (size 200).
All dimensions are in mm.

1st stage 2nd stage No load

Regenerator Materials Temperature
Sl PT Reg PT Reg
D L D L D L D L 2nd 1st 2nd 1st
Stage stage Stage stage
Er3Ni+Lead+SS SS+Lead
1 19 270 25 160 14 390 19 190 6.5 76.4
(31%+57%+12%) (85%+15%)
Er3Ni+Lead+SS SS+Lead
2 19 270 25 200 14 390 19 190 4.5 72
(31%+57%+12%) (85%+15%)
SS+ Lead
3 19 200 25 200 14 390 19 190 (31.5%+57%+ 5.1 73.8
SS+ Lead
4 19 200 25 200 14 390 19 190 (31.5%+57%+ 3.5 59.9
5 25 150 38 140 14 350 19 190 SS (100%) 24.4 176.5
6 25 150 38 140 10 350 19 190 SS (100%) 59.5 188.9
Er3Ni+Lead SS+ Lead
7 19 270 25 200 14 390 19 190 3.4 70.3
(60%+40%) (85%+15%)
HoCu2+Lead SS+ Lead
8 19 270 25 200 14 390 19 190 2.5 59.5
(60%+40%) (85%+15%)
HoCu2+Lead SS+ Lead
9 19 270 25 200 14 390 19 190 3.3 65.0
(40%+60%) (85%+15%)
SS+ Lead
10 19 270 25 200 14 390 19 190 Pb(100%) 13.5 118.4
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