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Wearable air-conditioners: Hot, new microtechnology keeps GI's cool

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February 13, 2004 Share This!

  • PNNL researchers are developing heat-actuated lightweight and compact cooling technology, capable of sustaining manageable temperatures within the protective suits soldiers wear for several hours at a time.
    Photo courtesy of The U.S. Army.

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SEATTLE — Personal protective suits may protect soldiers from chemical and biological weapons, yet extreme heat inside that gear poses a different but equal threat. Without portable cooling technology to ward off heat exhaustion and heat stroke, suits meant to save lives can incapacitate soldiers in just minutes.

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are in the process of developing and demonstrating heat-actuated lightweight and compact cooling technology capable of sustaining manageable temperatures within the protective garb for several hours at a time.

The principles of microtechnology and the very high rates of heat and mass transfer at this miniature scale-about the thickness of the human hair-have enabled manportable cooling systems now foreseen to weigh in at about three to four pounds. The system can chill water which flows through a vest worn by a solider capable of providing relief for up to six hours. Instead of using electricity to power a mechanical compressor, heat from burning fuel is used to power the cooling, thereby replacing bulky, heavy batteries with much lighter fuels. The key for making this portable is microtechnology, which can reduce the size and weight of a system based on traditional technology by five to 10 times.

"This same heat-actuated cooling technology will soon be used to benefit both military and commercial applications," said Ward TeGrotenhuis, chemical engineer at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "From troops operating in desert environments to astronauts or hazmat teams working in extreme conditions, the same principles apply."

Funding for development comes from the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command in Ft. Belvoir, VA.

Tags: Fundamental Science, National Security, Chemistry, Nanoscience

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