High Thermal Conductivity Graphite Foam for Protective Clothing

AZoM - Metals, Ceramics, Polymer and Composites : High Thermal Conductivity Graphite Foam for Protective Clothing

A personal cooling system being developed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), USA, could provide fighter pilots, racing car drivers and firefighters with a breath of fresh air.

The system uses high thermal conductivity graphite foam, a material developed at ORNL, which boasts thermal conductivity five times greater than aluminium. ‘Our proposed system would enhance the performance of a person’s natural cooling mechanisms,’ says James Klett of ORNL’s Metals and Ceramics Division, who led the team that developed the thermally conductive foam. ‘Instead of simply cooling the skin through a uniform, our approach would remove heat from the body’s surface and provide cooled air to breathe.’

The system will initially be developed for fighter pilots and Klett’s first efforts are centring on developing a system specifically designed to provide personal cooling for Navy pilots. The main tasks will involve refining a battery system so it will be more efficient, lightweight and compact, and integrating the system with the flight suit and helmet.

Looking at future developments for the system, Klett believes it will be highly desirable for racing car drivers, firefighters, hazardous materials workers and others who have to contend with protective clothing and hot working environments.

‘We are working with the racing industry to develop a system geared towards a drivers’ needs,’ says Klett. One innovation is respiratory cooling, which Klett believes has great potential to supplement or replace other cooling methods. Prototype personal cooling devices that provide respiratory cooling have already been developed by ORNL for NASCAR drivers.

‘NASCAR drivers must function at peak performance for several hours at high ambient temperatures in heavy fire resistant suits,’ says Klett. While we haven’t performed detailed physiological measurements, we’ve worked with an outside contractor who told us the reaction from drivers has been very positive.’


Posted May 2002


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