What is a Heat Pipe?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 January 2020
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Sometimes referred to as a superconductor, a heat pipe is a device that is capable of transferring or routing heat between two points with relative ease. One of the benefits of this type of heating equipment is that there is relatively little heat loss during the transfer, making the pipes much more cost-efficient to operate. While the basic idea for the heat pipe was first developed in the 1940s, the first working example of this type of heating equipment was created in 1962 and has continued to be refined over the years.

While there are some variances in design of heat pipes today, most are still based on that original design. This means that the typical heat pipe will be constructed with three essential components. Those components are known as the container, the working fluid, and the wick.

The container of the heat pipe provides the housing for the working fluid that aids in the maintaining the heat generated within the device. Sometimes known as the pipe chamber, the container is airtight and leakproof, effectively protecting the fluid from the outside environment. At the same time, the airtight nature of the component makes it easier to achieve and maintain the correct level of pressure for the system to work properly.


Along with the container, the working fluid is very important to the function of the heat pipe. The fluid used must be compatible with the other elements of the device, including the wick that is used as part of the operation. There are a number of different fluids that may be used, depending on the amount of vapor pressure desired in the container and the ability of the fluid to adequately saturate or wet the wick. When the right fluid is chosen for a given heat pipe design, the balance of vapor pressure and wettability of the wick are within acceptable standards, which in turn increases the efficiency of the heat transfer pipe.

Sometimes known as a capillary structure, the wick in a heat pipe is not like the wick in a candle. This type of wick is manufactured with a porous structure, with some type of durable metal normally used in the construction. Nickel, aluminum, copper, or steel is often used to create the wick. In recent years, ceramic materials have been used to manufacture wicks, although there is some difference of opinion regarding the impact that ceramic wicks have on the efficiency of a heat pipe. During the manufacturing process, the degree of pressure used to create the wick will have a lot to do with determining the size of the pores found along the body of the component.

In operation, the heat pipe is capable of transferring heat with a great deal of efficiency. The function of the wick creates pressure that in turn moves the working fluid through the condenser and results in the evaporation of the liquid. As heat is generated, the pressure also helps to move the heat through the structure of the pipe, ultimately delivering that heat to a point of destination. Pipes of this type are used in a wide range of machinery and appliances, including air conditioning equipment and any type of machines that involve the use of heat exchangers. A smaller version of the heating pipe is even found in some laptop computers, making it possible to expel heat drawn in from surrounding components and prevent the device from over-heating.


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