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Jonathan Newman, Bob Cariste, Alejandro Queiruga, Isaac Davis, Ben Plotnick, Michael Gordon, and Sidney San Martín We explored the basic principles of thermoacoustic refrigeration, replicating the work of Russell and Weibull to produce a small thermoacoustic refrigerator out of readily available parts. Combined with an understanding of the underlying thermodynamics, the model enables us to spread awareness of the viability of thermoacoustic devices as refrigerators and heat pumps.
From creating comfortable home environments to manufacturing fast and efficient electronic devices, air conditioning and refrigeration remain expensive, yet essential, services for both homes and industries. However, in an age of impending energy and environmental crises, current cooling technologies continue to generate greenhouse gases with highenergy costs. Thermoacoustic refrigeration is an innovative alternative for cooling that is both clean and inexpensive. Through the construction of a functional model, we will demonstrate the effectiveness of thermoacoustics for modern cooling. Refrigeration relies on two major thermodynamic principles. First, a fluid’s temperature rises when compressed and falls when expanded. Second, when two substances are placed in direct contact, heat will flow from the hotter substance to the cooler one. While conventional refrigerators use pumps to transfer heat on a macroscopic scale, thermoacoustic refrigerators rely on sound to generate waves of pressure that alternately compress and relax the gas particles within the tube. The model constructed for this research project employed inexpensive, household materials. Although the model did not achieve the original goal of refrigeration, the experiment suggests that thermoacoustic refrigerators could one day be viable replacements for conventional refrigerators.
as light, sound, or water waves. In a closed tube, columns of air demonstrate these patterns as sound waves reflect back on themselves after colliding with the end of the tube. When the incident and reflected waves overlap, they interfere constructively, producing a single waveform. This wave appears to cause the medium to vibrate in isolated sections as the traveling waves are masked by the interference.1 Therefore, these “standing waves” seem to vibrate in constant position and orientation around stationary nodes. These nodes are located where the two component sound waves interfere to create areas of zero net displacement. The areas of maximum displacement are located halfway between two nodes and are called antinodes. The maximum compression of the air also occurs at the antinodes. Due to these node and antinode properties, standing waves are useful because only a small input of power is needed to create a large amplitude wave. This large amplitude wave then has enough energy to cause visible thermoacoustic effects. All sound waves oscillate a specific amount of times per second, called the wave’s frequency, and is measured in Hertz. For our thermoacoustic refrigerator we had to calculate the optimal resonant frequency in order to get the maximum heat transfer rate. The equation for the frequency of a wave traveling through a closed tube is given by:
Sound Waves and Pressure
Thermoacoustics is based on the principle that sound waves are pressure waves. These sound waves propagate through the air via molecular collisions. The molecular collisions cause a disturbance in the air, which in turn creates constructive and destructive interference. The constructive interference makes the molecules compress, and the destructive interference makes the molecules expand. This principle is the basis behind the thermoacoustic refrigerator. One method to control these pressure disturbances is with standing waves. Standing waves are natural phenomena exhibited by any wave, such
where f is frequency, v is velocity of the wave, and L is the length of the tube.
Figure 1: Shows the relationship between the phase of the wave, the pressure, and the actual arrangement of the molecules. The black line shows the phase of the sound wave, the red shows the pressure and the dots below represent the actual molecules. From Reference 2
GSET Research Journal 2006
In any heat cycle. the temperature increases. through which the heat in the expanded gas can dissipate into a cooler chamber. nuclear power.34 Both the Stirling cycle and Carnot cycle involve the following basic thermodynamic cycle: heat enters from a hot container. This is also an isothermal process. The Stirling Cycle The Stirling cycle is a variation of the Carnot cycle. The basic thermodynamic cycles rely on this relationship between temperature and pressure. but unlike the Carnot cycle. such as solar power. Heat Cycles. pistons are used to output work. the Carnot cycle. pushing the piston to its extended position. The Carnot Cycle The most efficient cycle of thermodynamics. as a result. an engine can actually be constructed that effectively utilizes the Stirling method of heat transfer. The cycle begins with the piston in its rest position. The chamber into which the gas expands. In Figure 3. or. This is an adiabatic process where no heat is transferred into or out of the cylinder. moving a piston). adiabatically compressing the gas and allowing the piston to fall back to its rest position. Heat from an outside source is transferred to the gas via an isothermal process where the temperature does not change. As in the Carnot cycle. takes advantage of this principle of gas expansion. because it is easier to compress the cooler gas than to add heat to the warm gas. and Heat Pumps The second fundamental science behind thermoacoustics is thermodynamics. different heat cycles become more efficient. The gas then compresses. Figure 3: T-S diagram showing the four stages in the Carnot cycle. In engines.e. the gas expands. From reference 4. The work extracted from the system is represented by the white area. To determine the efficiency of the cycle. or conventional combustion. The Ideal Gas Law states that the pressure on a gas is directly proportional to absolute temperature. circulating heat throughout the system. In a Stirling engine. so it is defined to be 100% efficient.2 transfers more heat than it does work. an external heat source (often external combustion) transfers heat into the gas in the chamber. the heat is dissipated into a cooler container. The heated gas then transfers the heat to a low temperature container doing work on the surroundings. gases will expand and contract. A Stirling engine is useful because it can be powered by almost any external heat source. These movements of kinetic energy can be used to do work. the gas particles in a system will collide more frequently if the temperature is increases or if the volume is reduced. usually consisting of metal fins. However. the Carnot cycle has the best work output with the given temperature difference and entropy difference. The Carnot cycle uses gas in a closed chamber to extract work from the system. as the pressure on a gas increases. Figure 2: P-V diagram of the Carnot cycle. GSET Research Journal 2006 2 . work comes out of the engine (i. the total heat transferred equals the red area plus the white area. net work is done on the surroundings.Thermodynamics. the total useful work done is compared to the total heat transferred. the ideal thermodynamic process where each step is reversible and involves no change in entropy. involving less loss of heat from the system. Thermoacoustic refrigerators use variations of these cycles to pump heat. pushing the piston to its extended position. the study of heat transfer. and the piston returns to its rest position. Depending on how the heat oscillations are controlled. the gas expands. however. has a heat sink. Even the Carnot cycle. and. The surroundings now do work on the system. However. By the ideal gas law. On a microscopic scale. From Reference 3.
The purpose of the stack is to provide a medium where the walls are close enough so that each time a packet of gas moves. a collection of gas molecules that act and move together. thermoacoustics focuses on the microscopic temperature oscillations that accompany these pressure changes. Thermoacoustics takes advantage of these pressure oscillations to move heat on a macroscopic level. As the packet is compressed. This phase is the refrigeration part of the cycle. Thermoacoustic Cycle The cycle by which heat transfer occurs is similar to the Stirling cycle. the stack will be difficult to fabricate. A functional cross section of the stack we used is shown in figure 6. The spacing of these designs is crucial: if the holes are too narrow. The purpose of the stack is to provide a medium for heat transfer as the sound wave oscillates through the resonator tube. resulting in lower efficiency. the packet of gas is compressed and moves to the left. As the gas packet moves GSET Research Journal 2006 3 . the sound wave does work on the packet of gas. or refrigerator. Thermoacoustics Thermoacoustics combines the branches of acoustics and thermodynamics together to move heat by using sound. the stack can temporarily absorb the heat transferred by the sound waves. 99% of the air molecules are not near enough to the wall for the temperature effects to be noticeable. causing no net temperature difference. and the viscous properties of the air will make it difficult to transmit sound through the stack. then less air will be able to transfer heat to the walls of the stack. When the gas packet is at maximum compression. Most stacks consist of honeycombed plastic spacers that do not conduct heat throughout the stack but rather absorb heat locally. the gas ejects the heat back into the stack since the temperature of the gas is now higher than the temperature of the stack. From Reference 5. moving the heat farther from the bottom of the tube. A heat pump requires an input of work to transfer heat from a cooler container to a hotter one. The stack consists of a large number of closely spaced surfaces that are aligned parallel to the to the resonator tube. This results in a large temperature difference between the hot and cold sides of the device and causes refrigeration. since the vast majority of the molecules are far from the walls of the chamber. However. From reference 3. Figure 4: Shows the cylinder positions of the four steps of the Carnot cycle. Figure 55 traces the basic thermoacoustic cycle for a packet of gas. Starting from point 1. the gas is returned to the initial state. In a typical column. This heatpump cycle is the basic mechanism by which our refrigerators will work. the gas particles cannot exchange heat with the wall and just oscillate in place. operates on the same basic cycle as a heat engine. only in reverse. The most important piece of a thermoacoustic device is the stack. The left end is towards the closed end of the resonator tube. In typical standing wave devices. heat transfer occurs between the walls of cylinder and the gas. A heat pump. the temperature differences occur over too small of an area to be noticeable. In the second phase of the cycle. While acoustics is primarily concerned with the macroscopic effects of sound transfer like coupled pressure and motion oscillations.thermoacoustic refrigerator cycle. In a usual resonator tube. the temperature differential is transferred to the wall of the stack. If the walls are too far apart. providing the power for the refrigerator. With this property.
moving heat from the warm region to the colder region and creating sound waves. and plug. The function for the critical longitudinal temperature gradient is5 GSET Research Journal 2006 4 . so we each created looms as templates for stack.back towards the right. if a block of aluminum is at a constant low temperature and suddenly one side is exposed to a high temperature. The film was then cut to a meter in length and taped to a flat surface. the distance that the heat penetrates the metal in 1 second is the heat penetration. as well as the isobaric specific heat per unit mass of the gas. The thermal penetration depth for an oscillating heat source is a function of the frequency of the standing wave. The variation in local wall temperature is represented by 2ξ ∇ Tcrit over the maximum displacement of the gas molecules. If these two quantities are equal.W. since sound waves are constantly oscillating between the roles of heat source and heat sink.6 The thermal penetration depth is the distance heat can diffuse in a gas over a certain amount of time. This allowed for a straight application of the fishing line to the film. with the loudspeaker. increasing the temperature of the interior sections. ∇ Tcrit = p ξ ρ cp where p is the acoustic pressure and ξ is the acoustic displacement amplitude. The design of the stack is shown on the left.5 We began by creating the stack. the ideal spacing in a stack is 4 thermal penetration depths. since efficiency depends on a temperature differential caused by the sound waves that is larger than the critical temperature so that a large cooling effect is created. since gas packets are too far away from the wall to effectively transfer heat. According to G. This was achieved with 15-lb nylon fishing wire with a diameter of 0. ρ . For example. If the walls of the stack are too close. As time passes. the sound wave expands the gas. in step 4. However. Finally.5. The thermocouples (not shown) were inserted one above the stack and one below the stack. the thermal conductivity. The maximum temperature variation caused by the sound waves is 2 p / ρ c p . This temperature is important in determining the properties of a thermoacoustic device. δk = κ π fρ c p Procedure To create the thermoacoustic refrigerator we followed a plan similar to one designed by Russell et al. Although some work is expended to return the gas to the initial state. the heat released on the top of the stack is greater than the work expended to return the gas to the initial state. If the temperature difference induced by the sound wave is greater than this critical temperature. which we constructed with film and fishing wire. The Critical Temperature The critical temperature is the temperature at which no heat will be transferred through the stack. If the temperature is less than the critical temperature then the stack will function as an acoustic engine. the sound cannot pass through the stack efficiently since the viscous properties of air prevent the air from vibrating. the thermal penetration depth is roughly constant. Swift. c p . Penetration Depth An essential variable in building a thermoacoustic refrigerator is the spacing between the walls of the stack. The design called for the fishing line to be placed in 5 mm separations. The looms were created from 5 cm wide cardboard roughly 33 cm in length with slits placed every 5 mm on each side. f . the heat penetrates farther into the material. however. the stack will function as a refrigerator. the process described above cannot occur. we were restricted by material constraints and achieved an acceptable penetration depth of 2. transferring heat from the cold end of the tube to the warm end. The design on the right shows the entire setup. of the gas. stack. the critical temperature is reached and no heat is transferred. κ . If the walls are too far apart. The design specified an optimal thermal penetration depth of 4. which consists of closely spaced film walls. and density. according to the equation: 5 Figure 6: The basic design of our thermoacoustic refrigerator.34 millimeters. the packets of gas reabsorb heat from the cold reservoir to repeat the heat transfer process. This process results in a net transfer of heat to the left side of the stack.
we had to take care not to remove it from the film.5 cm in diameter. by the length of tube. We then drilled holes 1 cm below and 1 cm above the stack where the thermocouples were inserted into the center of the tube. We measured the length of the tube to the bottom of the aluminum cap and multiplied by 4 and divided the speed of sound at room temperatures. However.loom wound with fishing wire and the film were both sprayed with spray adhesive. we inserted the machined aluminum stoppers.015 cm chromel and a length of 0. low-range speaker. We then machined 8 by 8 inch squares of Plexiglas with a 2. After. We then created the two thermocouples required for determining the temperature gradient. The tube was then inserted and glued into the hole in the center of the Plexiglas squares. we increased the intensity of the frequency and then recorded the temperatures of the two thermocouples. This process was repeated approximately 3 times until the entire meter of film was covered with fishing line.015 cm alumel and welded them together to create each thermocouple. We then determined the impedance of the speakers and used this knowledge to properly connect the speaker to the amplifier with 8-gauge wire.5 cm diameter tube. After the glue dried we took the completed stack and coiled the film tightly enough to fit into the 2. We determined the frequency to be around 340 Hz. The line was then applied to film with an even distribution of weight in order to insure optimal strength. Next. The hole in the square was centered over the speaker and silicon caulk was used to properly seal the connection. We then sealed the tube by plugging the end with an aluminum cap. Figure 7: The final modified thermoacoustic device with heat sink.5 cm tool designed not to destroy the stack. we connected a frequency generator to a 40w amplifier and connected this to the speaker via a BNC to RCA connector. the generator vibrates the speaker cone at that frequency. We allowed the stack to cure for several more days in order to ensure the best quality. Next. After the glue dried we then attached the Plexiglas square to a 6-inch. Basically. Once we found the optimal resonant frequency for our refrigerator. while removing the line from the loom. which subsequently vibrates the air and causes the heat transfer to occur. We then pushed the stack down 4 cm as specified from the top of tube using a machined 2. To accomplish this. roughly 2. GSET Research Journal 2006 5 . We listened to verify for the sound of the harmonic. We then cut 2 cm diameter Plexiglas tube into lengths of roughly 25 cm. we determined the proper frequency needed to achieve a standing wave. we took a length of 0. which outputs a sound at a specific frequency. This would later serve as the base. we used a tone generator.5 cm whole in the center. or. when the wavelength is 4 times the length of the tube. This is supposed to be at the first harmonic. which were needed to create the closed tube necessary for standing waves. We then used the thermocouple calibration device to ensure that the thermocouples were working. The edges of the tubes where then beveled to allow for proper sealing. and when verified. or roughly 349 m/s. After 10 minutes the glue was cured enough to cut the line from loom.
Thin pipes could be run across the top end of the stack. We collected the data for these results by sampling the temperatures at the top and bottom thermocouples of the refrigerators as they ran every ten seconds. is reactive.Possible Modifications One of the major problems that we had was the heat build up at the top of the tube. This will decrease the temperature difference between the top end and the bottom end. however. would absorb the heat quickly. probably because the acrylic pipe was unable to effectively transfer heat. effectively transferring the excess heat from the system. Liquid could flow through the stack. the aluminum proved to be unable to dissipate enough heat. Hydrogen gas. The problem with this. We tested three thermoacoustic refrigerators that we built. but were unable to significantly cool the air. In the original design the aluminum plug was responsible for conducting heat from of the top end of the tube into the surrounding air. When too much heat is in the system the bottom temperature stays at the surrounding temperature. this was largely ineffective. Unfortunately we did not have the tools to try this modification as well. Another possible method of dissipating the heat from the refrigerator would involve heat absorption by water. However. allowing the bottom end to become colder than with the flat plug before the temperature difference reaches the point that it exceeds the temperature gradient created by the sound waves and heat can no longer be transferred.7 Unfortunately we could not try this modification because of a lack of materials. we were unable to test this modification since we did not have the appropriate machine tools. the temperature difference between the hot end and cold end of the stack increased rapidly for the first thirty seconds and reached the final value after around ninety seconds of operation. Our results showed that we were able to create a high temperature gradient above room temperature. allowing for there to be more collisions at a single time. The increased surface area gives air particles a larger area to collide into the aluminum plug and transfer heat. One possible way to dissipate more heat is to increase the surface area of the cap by cutting grooves into each end of the aluminum plug. however. We wrapped copper around the top of the pipe to increase the surface area of the pipe and dissipate more heat. with a relatively high heat capacity. as described in the results below. The model with the heat sink created a larger temperature difference. This process is used in many professional-grade thermoacoustic refrigerators where helium gas has led to increased efficiency and heat transfer across the stack. stopping when it became apparent that there would be no more significant change. helium behaves the most like an ideal gas in that diatomic helium molecules exhibit weak electrostatic attractions upon each other. The unmodified models exhibited temperature differences of 11ºC and 14ºC after thirty seconds with final temperature differences of 19ºC and 20ºC. reaching a temperature gradient of 22ºC after thirty seconds with a final temperature difference of 28ºC. This would be using the device as a heat pump to power a device. Results We successfully created a thermoacoustic heat pump. In the three tests performed on the devices. in our experiment we tried to create a heat sink around the top end of the tube. whereas helium is relatively inert. Of all gases. The third had the heat sink modification that was described in the modifications section. such as spinning a turbine in a generator or an engine. Two of these devices were created from the instructions in the procedure section without any modifications. though beyond the reach of this study. helium molecules have a greater thermal conductivity than any other gas except for hydrogen. This is because heat will only be transferred from the cold region of the bottom end to the hot region of the top when the temperature gradient created by the sound waves is greater than the temperature difference between these two regions. Due to low dispersion forces and a low atomic mass. Most of the possible modifications we thought of involved of dissipating the heat from the top of the tube. because as we ran the experiment the temperature of the bottom section soon reached room temperature. is that we were attempting to create a thermoacoustic refrigerator. while the area on the top of the tube becomes very hot. thus increasing the rate of heat conduction of the aluminum plug from the top end of the tube into the surrounding air. Instead. The three tests also showed similar trends in the absolute temperatures of the top and bottom of the GSET Research Journal 2006 6 . However. would only require an evacuated airtight tube that would then be pressurized with the helium gas. to try and create effective refrigeration on the bottom of the tube. Unfortunately. Another method for improving the heat transfer within the tube would be to use helium as the sound medium. The hot water could then be used for other applications. The grooved aluminum plug will decrease the temperature in the top end of the tube by dissipating heat faster than the flat aluminum plug could. Water. Using helium as a sound medium.
but not significantly different. the temperature of the bottom end of the stack began to increase. Therefore. The top red bar shows the readings of the warm thermocouple. The bottom blue bar shows the readings for the cooler thermocouple. the refrigerator was able to generate a large temperature gradient. more than 20 degrees Centigrade. GSET Research Journal 2006 7 . we might have been able to get better results. However. Time (s) Figure 10: The modified model data. In order to create a working refrigerator we probably would have to attach a heat sink to the top of the device. Time (s) Figure 9: The unmodified model data for the second refrigerator. the actual temperature difference was slightly greater in this design.9 Modified Model Temperature 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 20 40 60 80 0 10 0 12 0 14 0 16 0 18 0 20 0 Conclusion Our device worked as a proof of concept device showing that a thermoacoustic device is possible and is able to cool air. As shown in the diagram. The bottom blue bar shows the readings for the cooler thermocouple. thus.8 If thermoacoustic cooling devices could be scaled for computer applications. over the long term. faster and more efficiently at lower temperatures. When the rate of change of the temperature difference began to decrease. our device did demonstrate that thermoacoustic device have the ability to create and maintain a large temperature gradient. which would be useful as a heat pump. and the hotter end started transferring heat back to the cooler one. Temperature (ºC) stack. The bottom blue bar shows the readings for the cooler thermocouple. the electronic industry would realize longer lifetimes for microchips. the refrigerator returned to room temperature. Additionally. This can be attributed primarily to unwanted heat diffusion of the top end of the stack to the outside of the tube and to the cooler end of the tube. The top red bar shows the readings of the warm thermocouple. Based on this data. as time went on. Since most noise is generated by waster heat. For the modified model with the heat sink. computer components and other semiconductor devices operate Temperature of Second Unmodified Model 60 Temperature (ºC) 50 40 30 20 10 0 20 40 60 80 10 0 12 0 14 0 16 0 18 0 20 0 22 0 24 0 0 Time (s) Figure 8: The unmodified model data. Computational speeds will always be limited by the amount of noise produced by computer chips. the temperature difference was 22ºC. Heat may have also diffused through the acrylic which would have brought the cool section back up to room temperature. and instead created a 20 degree centigrade heat pump. or even slightly above it.Temperature of unmodified model 60 Temperature (ºC) 50 40 30 20 10 0 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180 200 220 240 260 280 300 320 allowing the excess heat to dissipate to the surroundings. increased speed and capacity for telecommunications. The model with the heat sink actually exceeded room temperature by 3ºC. the temperature of the bottom of the stack gradually increased until it reached room temperature. If we were able to build the device with better materials. we were unable to cool the air significantly. The bottom of the stack. Applications Thermal management has always been a concern for computer systems and other electronics. The top red bar shows the readings of the warm thermocouple. such has a more insulating tube. the maximum temperature gradient was 15ºC. thus adding enough heat to result in no long term cooling effect. became colder during the initial rapid rate of temperature change. For the two unmodified models. as well as reduced energy costs. abet for only a short period of time. the cold end. However. For the unmodified models. the vibration of the speakers could have added heat to the cool part of the device.
10 However. has begun production of thermoacoustic freezers to keep its ice cream cold. water heater.11 The ice cream company’s experiment has successfully demonstrated the viability of thermoacoustic refrigeration. low-cost. eliminating the need for natural gases and oils. and furnace. Graduate student Stephanie Chen. since current air conditioners use HFCs and other potentially harmful chemicals. Advisor Dr Galiang Sun.000 in Garrett’s program. GSET counselor Mr. Program director GSET All the Governor’s School counselors and staff GSET Research Journal 2006 8 . Research conducted by Professor Steven Garrett at Pennsylvania State University has yielded reliable air conditioning devices used in submarines and space shuttles. Investing over $600. highefficiency cooling devices have broad applications in commercial industries and households. in collaboration with Professor Garrett’s research team. Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream.10 One thermoacoustic device could potentially operate an entire household’s air conditioner. Acknowledgments The Governor’s School of Engineering and Technology for providing this opportunity to be exposed to conducting small scale research Professor Stephen Tse. Ben and Jerry’s has already placed the freezers in many of its New York stores. Additionally. Anthony Welch. future applications of thermoacoustic air conditioners would not be restricted to industrial uses but could offer inexpensive heating and cooling for homes.Although this project was specifically designed to test the effectiveness of thermoacoustic refrigeration for electronic devices. Graduate student Megan Smith. thermoacoustic cooling systems that employ inert gases would have long-term benefits on the environment.
70 (12).” H. 17 July 2006.phyastr.” Stephen Tse.wikipedia. “Thermoacoustic engines and refrigerators.edu/hbase/waves/standw.edu/hbase/thermo/carnot.acs.edu/users/sinclair/thermal/tafaq. Today 48. .1 “Standing Waves. Available: http://www. 11 “Chilling at Ben & Jerry’s: Cleaner.W.htm.rolexawards.howstuffworks.htm 4 http://en.” Penn State Graduate Program in Acoustics.gsu. Russell and Pontus Weibull. 2 http://hyperphysics. J. Available: http://www.K Yuan. “Tabletop thermoacoustic refrigerator for demonstrations. 17 July 2006. W.PDF. 17 July 2006.html. 9 “Thermoacoustic Refrigeration for Electronic Devices: Project Outline.yutopian.html 8 “Thermal Management of Computer Systems Using Active Cooling of Pulse Tube Refrigerators. Georgia State University.H.” Am.psu.cfm/ID/4. Available: http://www.net/Yuan/papers/Intel.com/laureates/laureate-36-lurie_garrett. Greener. 17 July 2006. Phys.” Phys. Jung and S.com/stirling-engine. 6 G.com/news/index. Available: http://hyperphysics.” Rod Nave. 2006 Governor’s School of Engineering and Technology. 10 “Frequently Asked Questions about Thermoacoustics.html 3 http://www.thermoacousticscorp.phy-astr.org/wiki/Carnot_cycle 5 Daniel A. Swift. December 2002.” Ken Brown.html.gsu. 22-28 (1995) 7 http://www.
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