Thermal science research at GE
I’m Todd Wetzel, manager of the Thermal Systems Lab at GE Global Research. My lab’s role is self-explanatory: develop advanced thermal technologies for the gamut of GE’s products.
Basically, every physical product that GE sells – jet engines, power plants, locomotives, medical equipment, electronic equipment, appliances, etc. – is limited in some way by temperature. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and try me: send me any example of a GE product, and I’ll tell you how it is limited by temperature.
But many GE products are obvious in their thermal limitations. The best examples are jet engines, and their gas turbines cousins in power plants. In both of these machines, thermodynamics dictates that engine efficiency improves substantially as the temperature of combustion is increased. In contemporary jet engines, combustion temperatures are so high that even exotic metals could never survive if left to their own. Therefore, all components in the ‘hot gas path’, or the region downstream of the combustor, utilize sophisticated cooling technologies to allow these parts to survive the harsh, high temperature combustion gases they touch. For decades, researchers at GE have developed increasingly sophisticated cooling technologies to allow jet engines to be safer, more reliable, and more fuel efficient. (See picture of the jet engine blade with this entry)
Another area of research for my group is electronics cooling. GE has so many products that are steeped in electronics – Healthcare, Sensors, Lighting, Security, Appliances, even Energy and Aviation. In all cases, we work to develop advanced cooling technologies that allow our products to have superior performance over our competitors. That advantage might mean higher heat fluxes, more processing power, lower temperature, longer life – whatever the product designers and ultimately our customers need. Power electronics devices need amazingly high heat fluxes. We realized several years ago that this necessitated the development of liquid microchannel heat sinks. Microchannels have been known for 20 years to be capable of providing exceptional cooling heat fluxes, but they have been challenging to implement due to manufacturing issues, clogging, pressure drop, etc. Over the last three years our researchers have developed a new and patent-pending implementation of microchannel heat sink, which we believe is among the best in the world in achievable heat flux. We were invited to write an article for Power Electronics Technology, and our article was featured on the cover of the magazine!
Got any questions about thermal sciences at GE? Feel free to submit a comment on my blog.