Industry Developments: Heat Exchangers for Electronics Cooling

By Norman Quesnel, Senior Member of Marketing Staff
Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.

(This article will be featured in an upcoming issue of Qpedia Thermal e-Magazine, an online publication dedicated to the thermal management of electronics. To get the current issue or to look through the archives, visit To read other stories from Norman Quesnel, visit

Heat exchangers are thermal management tools that are widely used across a variety of industries. Their basic function is to remove heat from designated locations by transferring it into a fluid. Inside the heat exchanger, the heat from this fluid passes to a second fluid without the fluids mixing or coming into direct contact. The original fluid, now cooled, returns to the assigned area to begin the heat transfer process again.

The fluids referred to above can be gases (e.g. air), or liquids (e.g. water or dielectric fluids), and they don’t have to be symmetrical. Therefore, heat exchangers can be air-to-air, liquid-to-air, or liquid-to-liquid. Typically, fans and/or pumps are used to keep these heat transfer medium in motion and heat pipes may be added to increase heat transfer capabilities.

Figure 1 shows a basic heat exchanger schematic. A hot fluid (red) flows through a container filled with a cold fluid (blue) but the two fluids are not in direct contact.

Heat Exchanger

Figure 1. In a Simple Heat Exchanger Heat Transfers from the Hot (Red) Fluid to the Cold (Blue) Fluid, and the Cooler After Fluid Re-Circulates to Retrieve More Heat. [1]

One example of a common heat exchanger is the internal combustion engine under the hood of most cars. A fluid (in this case, liquid coolant) circulates through radiator coils while another fluid (air) flows past these coils. The air flow lowers the liquid coolant’s temperature and heats the incoming air.

Applied to electronics enclosures, heat exchangers draw heated air from a cabinet, cool it, and then return the cooled air to the cabinet. These heat exchangers should be designed to provide adequate cooling for expected worst case conditions. Typically, those conditions occur when the ambient is the highest and when electrical loads through the enclosure are very high. Under typical conditions, heat exchangers can cool cabinet interiors to within 5°F above the ambient air temperature outside the enclosure.


Air-to-air heat exchangers have no loops, liquids or pumps. Their heat dissipation capabilities are moderate. Common applications are in indoor or outdoor telecommunications cabinetry or in manufacturing facilities that don’t have a lot of dust or debris.

Air-to-air heat exchangers provide moderate to good cooling performance. They don’t allow outside air to enter or mix with the air inside the enclosure. This protects the enclosure’s contents from possible contamination by dirt or dust, which could damage sensitive electronics and electrical devices and cause malfunctions.

An example of higher performance, air-to-air heat exchangers is the Aavid Thermacore HX series. These heat exchangers feature rows of heat pipes that add effective, two-phase heat absorbing properties when moving hot air away from a cooling area. The liquid inside the heat pipes turns to vapor. This transition occurs inside a hot cabinet. (See Figure 2)

The vapor travels to the other end of the heat pipe, which is outside the cabinet. Here it is cooled by a fan, transitions back to liquid form, and cycles back inside the cabinet environment.

Heat Exchangers

Figure 2. An Air-to-Air Heat Exchanger with Heat Pipes Extending Inside (top) and Outside (bottom) a Cabinet. Internal Heat is Transferred Outside the Enclosure. (Aavid Themacore) [1]

Other air-to-air heat exchangers feature impingement cooling functionality that can provide better performance than using heat pipes. Aavid Thermacore’s HXi Impingement core technology uses a folded fin core that separates the enclosure inside and outside. A set of inside fans draws in the hotter, inside air and blows it toward the fin core. This inside impingement efficiently transfers the heat to the fin core. Similarly, a set of outside fans draws in the cooler, ambient air and blows it toward the outer side of the fin core removing the waste heat. See Figure 3 below.

Heat Exchangers

Figure 3. Air-to-Air Heat Exchangers with Double-Sided Impingement Cooling Technology Can Move Twice the Heat Load of Conventional Exchangers. (Aavid Themacore) [3]


In some electronic cabinets, high power components can’t be cooled by circulating air alone or the external ambient air temperature is not cool enough to allow an air-to-air heat exchanger to solve the problem unaided. In these applications, liquid-to-air heat exchangers provide additional cooling to maintain proper cabinet temperatures.

For example, in a situation where heat is collected through a liquid-cooled cold plate attached directly to high power components. Even with the cold plate, the ambient air external to the cabinet is not cool enough to maintain the internal cabinet temperature at an acceptable or required level. Here, a liquid coolant in an active liquid-to-air heat exchanger can be used to cool the enclosure.

Heat Exchangers

Figure 4. Tube-to-Fin, Liquid-to-Air Heat Exchangers Provide High-Performance Thermal Transfer. [4] (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) tube-to-fin, liquid-to-air heat exchangers have the industry’s highest density of fins. This maximizes heat transfer from liquid to air, allowing the liquid to be cooled to lower temperatures than other exchangers can achieve. All tubes and fins are made of copper and stainless steel to accommodate a wide choice of fluids.

Available with or without fans, ATS heat exchangers are available in a range of sizes and heat transfer capacities up to 250W per 1°C difference between inlet liquid and inlet air temperatures. They can be used in a wide variety of automotive, industrial, HVAC, electronics and medical applications. [4]

Heat Exchanger

Figure 5. Small, Light-Weight Liquid-to-Liquid Heat Exchanger Provides Efficient Cooling Performance. [5]

Lytron’s liquid-to-liquid heat exchangers are only 10-20% the size and weight of conventional shell-and-tube designs. Their internal counter-flow design features stainless steel sheets stamped with a herringbone pattern of grooves, stacked in alternating directions to form separate flow channels for the two liquid streams. This efficient design allows 90% of the material to be used for heat transfer. Copper-brazed and nickel-brazed versions provide compatibility with a wide range of fluids. [5]


The development of nanomaterials has made it possible to structure a new type of heat transfer fluid formed by suspending nanoparticles (particles with a diameter lower than 100nm). A mixture of nanoparticles suspended in a base liquid is called a nanofluid. The choice of base fluid depends on the heat transfer properties required of the nanofluid. Water is widely used as the base fluid. Experimental data indicates that particle size, volume fraction and properties of the nanoparticles influence the heat transfer characteristics of nanofluids. [5]

When compared to conventional liquids, nanofluids have many advantages such as higher thermal conductivity, better flow, and the pressure drop induced is very small. They can also prevent sedimentation and provide higher surface area. From various research, it has been found that adding even very small amounts of nanoparticles to the base fluid can significantly enhance thermal conductivity.

Heat Exchangers

Figure 6. 3D Design of Curved Tube Heat Exchanger. Increased Turbulence and Velocity Increases Heat Transfer Rate. [6]

A recent paper by Fredric et al. proposes a theoretical heat exchanger with curved tubes and with nanofluids as the coolant. Nanofluids in place of regular water provide improved thermal conductivity due to the increased surface area. The heat transfer rate is further improved using curved tubes in place of straight tubes because the used of curved tubes increases the turbulence and fluid velocity, which helps increase the heat transfer rate. [6]

1. Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.,
2. Aavid Thermacore,
3. Aavid Thermacore,
4. Advanced Thermal Solutions,
5. Kannan, S., Vekatamuni, T. and Vijayasarathi, P., “Enhancement of Heat Transfer Rate in Heat Exchanger Using Nanofluids,” Intl Journal of Research, September 2014.
6. Fredric, F., Afzal, M. and Sikkandar, M., “A Review on Shell & Tube Heat Exchanger Using Nanofluids for Enhancement of Thermal Conductivity,” Intl. Journal of Innovative Research in Science, Engineering and Technology, March 2017.

For more information about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. thermal management consulting and design services, visit or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or

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