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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/N017013/1
Title: Oxford Pulse Tube Incorporating COaxial Regenerator (OPTICOR)
Principal Investigator: Stone, Professor CR
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Mr P Bailey
Project Partners:
Department: Engineering Science
Organisation: University of Oxford
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 April 2016 Ends: 30 March 2019 Value (£): 512,391
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Control Engineering Electric Motor & Drive Systems
Heat & Mass Transfer
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
25 Nov 2015 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 25th and 26th November 2015 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Pulse tube coolers are small low temperature refrigerators that can provide cooling for electronic devices such as infra-red detectors, superconducting devices and gamma ray detection in homeland security systems. Temperatures as low as 10 K can be obtained with a single stage helium-filled pulse tube but 30 K would be more typical, as lower temperatures would use a multi-stage approach.

Pulse tubes can be thought of as a Stirling cycle cooler that relies on a gas column to act as a displacer; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulse_tube_refrigerator. A reciprocating piston (the compressor) drives a flow through a regenerator into a tube (the 'pulse tube'); heat is rejected at the interface between the compressor and the regenerator, and heat is absorbed at the other end of the regenerator. The performance of the pulse tube can be improved greatly by connecting the pulse tube to a buffer volume through an orifice or inertance tube. As this can very bulky and have limited possibilities for control, there are advantages in having a warm-end expander (in effect an oscillating piston). This can be designed to respond to the pressure variation generated by the compressor, with a phase lag and amplitude determined by the system dynamics.

The pulsating flow can be produced by a system of valves with a high pressure gas supply, but this approach can only operate at low frequencies (a few Hz) due to the operation of the valves. In most recent applications a reciprocating piston is used which can be either mechanically or electromagnetically driven, and these typically operate at between 30 and 100 Hz. As the gas needs to be free of oil and other contaminants (to avoid fouling of the regenerator and cold-end heat exchanger), then it is sensible to use an 'Oxford-style' compressor. The Oxford-style compressor was developed over 30 years ago for a Stirling cycle cooler and its key features are:

* a spring suspension system that is radially stiff to provide accurate linear motion of a piston in a cylinder,

* a small radial clearance between the piston and cylinder (of order 8 micron) so there is negligible leakage and no contact (so no wear).

* an electromagnetic drive (originally like the voice-coil of a loudspeaker).

More recently compressors with moving magnets have been developed at Oxford. A crucial step was the design of a compressor in EP/E036899/1 'Development of a Miniature Refrigeration System for Electronics Cooling' that used a moving magnet with a stationary drive coil. This leads to a cheaper, low moving mass system that can operate at high frequency - this not only increases the specific output, but also leads to lower seal leakage losses and resistive losses in the drive coils. The work to be undertaken in this project will use a design that has been developed from the refrigeration compressor.

The simplest pulse tubes have a linear configuration (compressor, hot-end heat exchanger, regenerator, cold-end heat exchanger, 'pulse tube' volume). But these have the disadvantage of the cold-end being in the middle so a 'U' tube arrangement is used. However, there are flow losses associated with the 'U' bend that can be eliminated by a novel radial flow and concentric tube arrangement. This will be combined with a warm-end expander, and a single dynamic balancer to provide perfect balance of the pulse tube.

Stirling cycle coolers, in general, have a better performance than pulse tubes, but pulse tubes are simpler and better suited to higher frequency operation. The latest moving magnet compressor motor is capable of high frequency operation. Furthermore, high frequency operation leads to lower compressor clearance seal leakage losses, since this power loss and the Ohmic power loss are essentially independent of frequency. Therefore a pulse tube operating at high frequency (say 90 Hz) will be more efficient than at lower frequencies and be more compact than a Stirling cycle cooler.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.ox.ac.uk