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Patente

  1. Erweiterte Patentsuche
VeröffentlichungsnummerUS20090026813 A1
PublikationstypAnmeldung
AnmeldenummerUS 12/178,458
Veröffentlichungsdatum29. Jan. 2009
Eingetragen23. Juli 2008
Prioritätsdatum23. Juli 2007
Auch veröffentlicht unterCN101808839A, CN101808839B, WO2009015235A1
Veröffentlichungsnummer12178458, 178458, US 2009/0026813 A1, US 2009/026813 A1, US 20090026813 A1, US 20090026813A1, US 2009026813 A1, US 2009026813A1, US-A1-20090026813, US-A1-2009026813, US2009/0026813A1, US2009/026813A1, US20090026813 A1, US20090026813A1, US2009026813 A1, US2009026813A1
ErfinderJohn Lofy
Ursprünglich BevollmächtigterJohn Lofy
Zitat exportierenBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
Externe Links: USPTO, USPTO-Zuordnung, Espacenet
Radial thermoelectric device assembly
US 20090026813 A1
Zusammenfassung
According to some embodiments, a heat exchange device includes a housing, having at least one inlet, at least one first outlet and at least one second outlet. The device further includes an impeller positioned within the housing and configured to receive fluid from the at least one inlet and transfer it to at least one of the first outlet and the second outlet. In addition, the device comprises one or more heat exchange modules configured to receive a volume of fluid and selectively thermally condition it before said fluid exits through the first outlet or the second outlet. In one embodiment, the heat exchange module is partially or completely positioned within the housing.
Bilder(48)
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Ansprüche(22)
1. A heat exchange device comprising:
a housing, having at least one inlet, at least one first outlet and at least one second outlet;
an impeller positioned within the housing, the impeller configured to receive fluid from the at least one inlet and transfer it to at least one of the first outlet and the second outlet; and
at least one heat exchange module configured to receive a volume of fluid and selectively thermally condition said fluid before said fluid exits through the first outlet or the second outlet;
wherein the heat exchange module is positioned within the housing.
2. The device of claim 1, wherein the heat exchange module comprises a thermoelectric device.
3. The device of claim 2, wherein the thermoelectric device comprises a Peltier circuit
4. The device of claim 2, wherein the heat exchange module further comprises heat exchangers, the heat exchangers being in thermal communication with the thermoelectric device, wherein at least a portion of the volume of fluid is directed through or near such heat exchangers.
5. The device of claim 4, wherein the heat exchangers are in thermal communication with a substrate, the substrate comprising a thermally conductive and electrically non-conductive material.
6. The device of claim 1, wherein the heat exchange module is positioned along an outer perimeter portion of the interior of the housing.
7. The device of claim 6, wherein the heat exchange module extends along substantially the entire perimeter portion of the housing.
8. The device of claim 1, wherein the device comprises at least two separate heat exchange modules.
9. The device of claim 8, wherein the heat exchange modules are substantially equally spaced apart within the interior of the housing.
10. The device of claim 8, wherein the heat exchange modules are electrically connected to each other.
11. The device of claim 10, wherein the heat exchange modules are electrically connected to each other using end couplings, said end coupling comprising extensions of a substrate of a thermoelectric device.
12. The device of claim 4, wherein the heat exchange module comprises a set of upper heat exchangers in fluid communication with an upper side of the thermoelectric device and a set of lower heat exchangers in fluid communication with a lower side of the thermoelectric device, wherein the at least one first outlet is in fluid communication with the set of upper heat exchangers and the at least one second outlet is in fluid communication with the set of lower heat exchangers.
13. The device of claim 1, wherein the at least first outlet is located along a sidewall portion of the housing and wherein the at least second outlet is located along a bottom portion of the housing.
14. The device of claim 1, wherein the impeller is configured to substantially deliver an equal volume of fluid to the at least first outlet and the at least second outlet.
15. The device of claim 4, wherein the heat exchangers are oriented along a direction that generally coincides with a fluid flow direction approaching said heat exchangers.
16. The device of claim 1, wherein the device is configured to supply thermally conditioned fluid to a seat assembly.
17. The device of claim 1, wherein the heat exchange module is configured to accommodate thermal stresses when in use.
18. The device of claim 17, wherein a substrate of the heat exchange module comprises at least one expansion joint.
19. A climate controlled seat assembly comprising:
a seat bottom portion;
a seat back portion;
a heat exchange device comprising:
a housing, having at least one inlet, at least one first outlet and at least one second outlet;
an impeller positioned within the housing, the impeller configured to receive fluid from the at least one inlet and transfer it to at least one of the first outlet and the second outlet; and
at least one heat exchange module configured to receive a volume of fluid and selectively thermally condition said fluid before said fluid exits through the first outlet or the second outlet;
wherein the heat exchange module is positioned within the housing;
wherein thermally conditioned fluid exiting the first outlet or the second outlet of the heat exchange device is configured to be delivered within an opening of at least of the seat bottom portion and the seat back portion; and
wherein the thermally conditioned fluid is configured to be transferred toward a occupant of the seat assembly.
20. The assembly of claim 19, wherein the heat exchange device is mounted to a surface of the seat back portion or the seat bottom portion.
21. The assembly of claim 19, wherein at least one of the first outlet and the second outlet is configured to generally align with and be in fluid communication with the opening of the seat bottom portion or the seat back portion.
22. A method of thermally conditioning a fluid comprising
positioning at least one heat exchange module within a housing of a blower;
wherein the at least one heat exchange module configured to receive a volume of fluid and selectively thermally condition said fluid before said fluid exits through an outlet of the housing; and
selectively heating or cooling said fluid by electrically energizing said heat exchange module and activating an impeller of the blower;
wherein the heat exchange module comprises a thermoelectric device.
Beschreibung
CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the priority benefit under 35 U.S.C. § 119(e) of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/951,431, filed Jul. 23, 2007, the entirety of which is hereby incorporated by reference herein.

BACKGROUND

1. Technical Field

This disclosure relates generally to temperature control devices, and more particularly, to thermoelectric heat exchangers useful for producing a heated and/or cooled fluid.

2. Description of the Related Art

U.S. Pat. No. 5,626,021 describes a temperature control system that comprises a thermoelectric unit and a blower, which can be used to provide heated and/or cooled air to a surface of an automobile seat. Such a system can also be used to provide heated and/or cooled air to an enclosed space, bed, chair, other seating assembly and/or directly to a user.

With respect to automobile seats, in such arrangements, the heated and/or cooled air can be distributed to the occupant by passing the air through one or more air ducts formed into the seat and then through the seat surface to the occupant. The amount of space available within, below, and around the seat for such temperature control systems is often severely limited. For example, in some cars, to save weight or increase passenger room, the seats are a few inches thick and abut the adjacent structure of the car, such as the floorboard or the back of the car. Furthermore, automobile manufacturers are increasingly mounting various devices, such as electronic components or variable lumbar supports, within, below, and around the seat. Additionally, the size of the seat, particularly the seat back, is often designed to be as small as possible to reduce the amount of cabin space consumed by the seat, thereby increasing passenger space and/or decreasing weight.

Present temperature control systems can be too large to be mounted within, below or around vehicle seats. Conventional systems can have a blower five or six inches in diameter generating an air flow that passes through a duct to reach a heat exchanger that selectively adjusts the temperature of the air. The heat exchanger can be several inches wide and long, and can be an inch or so thick. From the heat exchanger the air is transported through ducts to the bottom of the seat cushion and/or to the back of the seat cushion. Such systems are often bulky and difficult to fit underneath or inside car seats.

The ducting used with these systems can also be bulky and difficult to use if the duct must go from a seat bottom to a seat back that is allowed to pivot or rotate. These ducts not only use additional space within the seat, but also resist air flow and thus require a larger fan to provide the air flow. The larger fan can require additional space, may need to be operated at greater speeds and/or may generate more noise. Noise is undesirable inside motor vehicles. Further, the ducting affects the temperature of the passing air and either heats cool air, or cools heated air, with the result of often requiring larger fans or heat exchangers. In light of these drawbacks, there is a need for a more compact and energy efficient heating and cooling system for automobile seats, and preferably a quieter system. In addition, a more compact and energy-efficient heating and cooling system also has uses in other localized conditioned air settings.

SUMMARY

According to some embodiments, a heat exchange device includes a housing, having at least one inlet, at least one first outlet and at least one second outlet. The device further includes an impeller positioned within the housing and configured to receive fluid from the at least one inlet and transfer it to at least one of the first outlet and the second outlet. In addition, the device comprises one or more heat exchange modules configured to receive a volume of fluid and selectively thermally condition it before said fluid exits through the first outlet or the second outlet. In one embodiment, the heat exchange module is partially or completely positioned within the housing.

In some embodiments, the heat exchange module comprises a thermoelectric device. In other arrangements, the thermoelectric device comprises a Peltier circuit. In another embodiment, the heat exchange module further comprises heat exchangers that are in thermal communication with the thermoelectric device, such that at least a portion of the volume of fluid is directed through or near such heat exchangers. In one arrangement, the heat exchangers are in thermal communication with a substrate that includes a thermally conductive and electrically non-conductive material.

In other arrangements, the heat exchange module is positioned along an outer perimeter portion of the interior of the housing. In another embodiment, the heat exchange module extends along substantially the entire perimeter portion of the housing. In still another arrangement, the device comprises at least two separate heat exchange modules. In one embodiment, the heat exchange modules are substantially equally spaced apart within the interior of the housing. In other embodiments, the heat exchange modules are electrically connected to each other. In one embodiment, the heat exchange modules are electrically connected to each other using end couplings, said end coupling comprising extensions of a substrate of a thermoelectric device.

According to some arrangements, the heat exchange module comprises a set of upper heat exchangers in fluid communication with an upper side of the thermoelectric device and a set of lower heat exchangers in fluid communication with a lower side of the thermoelectric device. In one arrangement, the at least one first outlet is in fluid communication with the set of upper heat exchangers and the at least one second outlet is in fluid communication with the set of lower heat exchangers. In another arrangement, the at least first outlet is located along a sidewall portion of the housing and wherein the at least second outlet is located along a bottom portion of the housing.

In some embodiments, the impeller is configured to substantially deliver an equal volume of fluid to the at least first outlet and the at least second outlet. In other arrangements, the heat exchangers are oriented along a direction that generally coincides with a fluid flow direction approaching said heat exchangers. In yet another embodiment, the device is configured to supply thermally conditioned fluid to a seat assembly, such as, for example, a vehicle seat, a bed, a sofa, a chair, a wheelchair, a stadium seat and/or the like. According to some embodiments, the heat exchange module is configured to accommodate thermal stresses when in use. In one embodiment, a substrate of the heat exchange module comprises at least one expansion joint.

According to other arrangements, a climate controlled seat assembly comprises a seat bottom portion, a seat back portion and a heat exchange device. The heat exchange device includes a housing, having at least one inlet, at least one first outlet and at least one second outlet, an impeller positioned within the housing, the impeller configured to receive fluid from the at least one inlet and transfer it to at least one of the first outlet and the second outlet and at least one heat exchange module configured to receive a volume of fluid and selectively thermally condition said fluid before said fluid exits through the first outlet or the second outlet. In some arrangements the heat exchange module is positioned within the housing. In other embodiments, thermally conditioned fluid exiting the first outlet or the second outlet of the heat exchange device is configured to be delivered within an opening of at least of the seat bottom portion and the seat back portion. Further, in some embodiments, thermally conditioned fluid is configured to be transferred toward a occupant of the seat assembly. In some arrangements, the heat exchange device is mounted to a surface of the seat back portion or the seat bottom portion. In another embodiment, at least one of the first outlet and the second outlet is configured to generally align with and be in fluid communication with the opening of the seat bottom portion or the seat back portion.

According to other embodiments, a method of thermally conditioning a fluid includes positioning at least one heat exchange module within a housing of a blower. The at least one heat exchange module is configured to receive a volume of fluid and selectively thermally condition said fluid before said fluid exits through an outlet of the housing. The method further comprises selectively heating or cooling said fluid by electrically energizing said heat exchange module and activating an impeller of the blower. In some arrangements, the heat exchange module comprises a thermoelectric device.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,606,866 discloses various configurations of a thermoelectric device (TED) with a radial heat exchanger and thermoelectric unit that are configured to address many of the shortcomings discussed above. While representing an improvement over the art, several aspects of the '866 design have limited its commercial application. For example, the radial thermoelectric modules disclosed in the '866 module can be difficult to manufacture and may result in fatigue damage caused by thermal expansion forces. In addition, the air flow through the radial heat exchangers may not be optimized for commercial applications.

Some embodiments provide an annular heat exchanger system comprising a heat exchanger module system. The heat exchanger module system comprising: an inner perimeter defining an opening in the heat exchanger module system; a thermoelectric device comprising: a first substrate comprising a plurality of sectors defining at least a portion of an outer perimeter of the thermoelectric device; a second substrate; and a plurality of thermoelectric pellets disposed between the first substrate and the second substrate.

Some embodiments provide a heat exchanger module system comprising: a plurality of heat exchanger modules defining at least a portion of an outer perimeter and an opening. Each heat exchanger module comprises: a thermoelectric device comprising a first substrate, a second substrate, and a plurality to thermoelectric pellets disposed therebetween; a first heat exchanger thermally coupled to the first substrate; and a second heat exchanger thermally coupled to the second substrate.

Some embodiments provide a heat exchanger module system comprising: a plurality of heat exchanger modules, wherein each heat exchanger module comprises: a thermoelectric device comprising a first substrate, a second substrate, and a plurality to thermoelectric pellets disposed therebetween; a first heat exchanger thermally coupled to the first substrate; and a second heat exchanger thermally coupled to the second substrate; and a plurality of coupling members coupling at least some adjacent heat exchanger modules.

Some embodiments provide a method of manufacturing a heat exchanger module system comprising: deforming coupling members of a heat exchanger module system comprising: a plurality of heat exchanger modules disposed in a substantially linear array; and coupling members coupling adjacent heat exchanger modules to form a substantially polygonal heat exchanger module system.

Some embodiments provide a method for conditioning a fluid, the method comprising: applying a potential to a thermoelectric device of a heat exchanger module, wherein the heat exchanger module comprises a thermoelectric device comprising a first substrate, a second substrate, a plurality of thermoelectric pellets disposed therebetween, a first heat exchanger thermally coupled to the first substrate, and a second heat exchanger thermally coupled to the second substrate, and the potential effectively generates a temperature differential between the first substrate and the second substrate; and flowing fluid through first and second heat exchangers of a heat exchanger module system. The heat exchanger module system comprises a plurality of heat exchanger modules defining at least a portion of a perimeter of the heat exchanger module system and a perimeter of an opening, each module comprising an upper portion and a lower portion, and a first portion of the fluid flows radially from the perimeter of the opening through the upper portion of the heat exchanger module system and then radially out of the system and a second portion of the fluid flow flows radially from the perimeter of the opening through the lower portion of the heat exchanger module system and then turns approximately 90 degrees and exits in an axial direction.

Some embodiments provide a thermal module for delivering conditioned air, the module comprising: a housing comprising an upper portion, lower portion and a side wall extending between the upper and lower portions, the housing defining an interior cavity and the upper portion defining, at least in part, an inlet into the interior cavity, the side wall defining, at least in part, a first outlet and the lower portion defining, at least in part, a second outlet; an impeller positioned within the housing, the impeller comprising a plurality of blades configured to rotate about a rotational axis and draw air into the housing through the inlet and then direct the flow in a radial direction towards the side wall; a thermoelectric heat exchanger system positioned within the housing. The thermoelectric heat exchanger system comprises: a first heat exchanger formed about the rotational axis of the impeller axis and configured such that fluid flows along the first heat exchanger at least partially in a first direction; a second heat exchanger formed about the rotational axis of the impeller and positioned below the first heat exchanger and configured such that fluid flows along the second heat exchanger at least partially in the first direction; and a thermoelectric device having opposing surfaces that generate a temperature gradient between one surface and an opposing surface in response to electrical current flowing through the thermoelectric device, the one surface in thermal communication with the first heat exchanger and the opposing surface in thermal communication with the second heat exchanger, wherein a portion of the housing extends between an outlet of the first heat exchanger and an outlet of the second heat exchanger such that fluid from the first heat exchanger is directed toward the first outlet and fluid from the second heat exchanger is directed to the second outlet.

Some embodiments provide a radial outlet blower comprising a housing that includes an upper portion, a lower portion and a side wall extending between the upper and lower portions. The housing generally defines an interior cavity, and the upper portion generally defines, at least in part, an inlet into the interior cavity. Further, the lower portion defines, at least in part, a substantially circumferentially and/or radially symmetrical outlet. The radial outlet blower further includes an impeller positioned within the housing, the impeller comprising a plurality of blades configured to rotate about a rotational axis and draw air into the housing through the inlet and then direct the flow in radial and/or axial direction towards one or more outlets.

These and other features are disclosed in further detail herein.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

These and other features, aspects and advantages of the present devices, systems and methods are described in detail below with reference to drawings of certain preferred embodiments, which are intended to illustrate, but not to limit, the present inventions. The drawings contain seventy-six (76) figures. It is to be understood that the attached drawings are for the purpose of illustrating concepts of the present inventions and may not be to scale.

FIG. 1A is a perspective view from above of an embodiment of a thermoelectric heat exchanger system.

FIG. 1B is a perspective view from below the thermoelectric heat exchanger system illustrated in FIG. 1A.

FIG. 1C is an exploded view of the thermoelectric heat exchanger system illustrated in FIG. 1A.

FIG. 1D is a side cross section of the heat exchanger system FIG. 1A.

FIG. 1E is a perspective view of an embodiment of a heat exchanger module.

FIG. 1F is a perspective view of the heat exchanger module of FIG. 1E mounted on an embodiment of a flow director.

FIG. 1G is a top view of a blower assembly comprising three heat exchanger modules according to one embodiment.

FIG. 1H is a top view of a blower assembly comprising two heat exchanger modules according to one embodiment.

FIG. 1I is a top view of a blower assembly comprising two heat exchanger modules according to another embodiment.

FIG. 2A is a top view of an embodiment of a polygonal heat exchanger module system comprising a plurality of rectangular heat exchangers.

FIG. 2B is a top view of another embodiment of a polygonal heat exchanger module system comprising a plurality of rectangular heat exchangers.

FIG. 2C is a top view of another embodiment of a polygonal heat exchanger module system comprising a plurality of rectangular heat exchangers.

FIG. 2D illustrates a top view of a system comprising coupling members useful for coupling adjacent heat exchanger modules.

FIG. 2E illustrates a top view of adjacent heat exchanger modules connected to each other using coupling members according to one embodiment.

FIG. 2F illustrates a side view of coupling members of adjacent heat exchanger modules being attached to one another using a spot weld according to one embodiment.

FIG. 2G illustrates a side view of coupling members of adjacent heat exchanger modules being positioned next to one another according to one embodiment.

FIG. 2H illustrates the coupling members of FIG. 2G being spot welded to each other using according to one embodiment.

FIG. 2I illustrates a top view of an assembly comprising flow blocking members positioned between adjacent heat exchanger modules according to one embodiment.

FIG. 3A illustrates a top view of an embodiment of a linear heat exchanger module system comprising deformable coupling members.

FIG. 3B illustrates the linear heat exchanger module system of FIG. 3A converted into a polygonal form.

FIGS. 3C and 3D are perspective views of an embodiment of a deformation of a coupling member in converting the linear embodiment of the heat exchanger module system illustrated in FIG. 3A into the polygonal embodiment illustrated in FIG. 3B.

FIG. 4A illustrates a top view of another embodiment of a detail linear heat exchanger module system comprising deformable coupling members.

FIGS. 4B and 4C are perspective views of an embodiment of a deformation of the coupling member of 4A.

FIG. 5A illustrates a top view of another embodiment of a detail linear heat exchanger module system comprising deformable coupling members.

FIGS. 5B and 5C are perspective views of an embodiment of a deformation of the coupling member of 5A.

FIG. 6A illustrates a top view of another embodiment of a detail linear heat exchanger module system comprising deformable coupling members.

FIGS. 6B and 6C are perspective views of an embodiment of a deformation of the coupling member of 6A.

FIG. 6D is a top view of a layout used in the manufacture of the heat exchanger module system of FIG. 6A.

FIG. 6E is a top view of a printed circuit board configured for use in a blower assembly comprising one or more heat exchanger modules according to one embodiment.

FIG. 7A illustrates in perspective an embodiment of an annular heat exchanger module suitable for use in a heat exchanger system.

FIGS. 7B-7D are a perspective and detail views of an embodiment of a heat exchanger useful in the heat exchanger module of FIG. 7A.

FIG. 7E is a cross-section view of an embodiment of the heat exchanger module illustrated in FIG. 7A.

FIG. 7F is a cross-section view of the heat exchanger module of FIG. 7E illustrating the effect of a temperature differential between first and second substrates thereof.

FIG. 7G is a top view of an embodiment of a thermoelectric device used in the heat exchanger illustrated in FIG. 7A showing the effect of a temperature differential between first and second substrates thereof.

FIG. 7H illustrates a top view of an embodiment of a portion of a segmented substrate.

FIG. 8A is a top view of an embodiment of an annular thermoelectric device comprising a sectored first substrate and a non-sectored second substrate.

FIG. 8B is a bottom view of an embodiment of an annular thermoelectric device comprising a sectored first substrate and a non-sectored second substrate.

FIG. 9A is a top view of a sheet from which substrates of the thermoelectric devices are obtained according to one embodiment.

FIG. 9B is a top view of an embodiment of a thermoelectric device that comprises a plurality of arc-shaped substrate portions cut or otherwise provided from the sheet of FIG. 9A.

FIG. 9C is a top view of a sheet from which substrates of the thermoelectric devices are obtained according to another embodiment.

FIG. 9D is a top view of a sheet from which substrates of the thermoelectric devices are obtained according to still another embodiment.

FIG. 10 is a side cross-sectional view of an embodiment of a heat exchanger system in which first and second heat exchangers are positioned lower compared with the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 1D, thereby equalizing the airflow through the first and second heat exchangers.

FIG. 11A is a top view of an embodiment of a heat exchanger system comprising fins or vanes for modifying the lateral distribution of airflow through the first and second heat exchangers.

FIG. 11B is a top view of another embodiment of a heat exchanger system comprising fins or vanes for modifying the lateral distribution airflow through the first and second heat exchangers.

FIG. 11C illustrates a top view of one embodiment of air being transferred from an impeller toward a heat exchanger module positioned within an interior of a blower assembly.

FIG. 11D illustrates a detailed top view of the blower assembly of FIG. 11C.

FIGS. 11E-11G illustrates top views of various embodiments of heat exchangers of a heat exchanger module positioned within a blower assembly.

FIG. 11H illustrates a perspective view of a folded heat exchanger according to one embodiment.

FIGS. 11I and 11J illustrates top and side views, respectively, of a folded heat exchanger having a wave-like shape according to one embodiment.

FIG. 12A is a cross section of an embodiment of a motor-impeller assembly in which the impeller comprises a vertical splitter plate configured to modify the relative airflow through first and second heat exchangers.

FIG. 12B is a top view of an embodiment of a motor-impeller assembly comprising the vertical splitter plate of FIG. 12A.

FIGS. 13A and 13B are cross sections of another embodiment of a motor-impeller assembly in which the impeller comprises an angled splitter plate configured to modify the relative airflow through first and second heat exchangers.

FIGS. 14A and 14B illustrate in perspective and in a side cross-section an embodiment of the motor-impeller assembly comprising a top ring.

FIG. 14C is a cross-sectional view of a calculated airflow for a motor motor-impeller assembly as illustrated in FIGS. 14A and 14B.

FIG. 15 is a side cross sectional view of an embodiment of the motor-impeller assembly that does not comprise a top ring.

FIG. 16 illustrates embodiment of a motor-impeller assembly comprising a different number of upper blade portions and lower blade portions.

FIG. 17 a schematic illustration of a ventilation system that includes thermoelectric device in accordance with one embodiment.

FIG. 18A is a cross sectional view and FIG. 18B is a perspective of an embodiment of a radial outlet blower.

FIGS. 18C and 18D are a top view and a side view of an embodiment of a radial outlet blower mounted in a seat cushion.

FIG. 19A illustrates a blower in which the airflow outlet is turned 90° using a snout.

FIGS. 19B and 19C are a top view and a side view of the blower illustrated in FIG. 19A mounted in a seat cushion.

FIG. 20 illustrates a side cross sectional view of an embodiment of a seating system comprising an embodiment of a radial outlet blower.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Embodiments described below illustrate various configurations that may be employed to achieve one or more improvements. The particular embodiments and examples are illustrative only and are not intended to limit the concepts presented herein, and/or the various aspects and/or features thereof. As used herein, the terms “cooling side,” “heating side,” “cold side,” “hot side,” “cooler side,” “hotter side,” and the like are relative terms and do not refer to any particular temperature. For example, the “hot,” “heating,” or “hotter” side of a thermoelectric element or array may be at ambient temperature, with the “cold,” “cooling,” or “cooler” side at a temperature cooler than ambient temperature. Conversely, the “cold,” “cooling,” or “cooler” side may be at ambient temperature with the “hot,” “heating” or “hotter” side at a temperature higher than ambient temperature. Thus, the terms are relative to each other to indicate that one side of the thermoelectric is at a higher or lower temperature than the counter-designed side.

In addition, fluid flow is referenced in the discussion below as having direction. When such references are made, they generally refer to the direction as depicted in the drawings. For example, fluid flow over or through a heat exchanger may be described as away from or along an axis about which these heat exchangers are disposed. One skilled in the art will understand that the fluid flow pattern in a device may take the form of a spiral, circular motion, another turbulent or laminar flow pattern and/or the like. The terminology indicating “away” from an axis or “along” an axis, or any other direction described in the application is meant to be an illustrative generalization of the direction with respect to the drawings. Directional terms such as “top,” “bottom,” “upper,” “lower,” “left,” “right,” “front,” “back,” “clockwise,” and “counterclockwise” are also relative to the configuration illustrated in the drawings.

FIG. 1A is a top perspective view of an embodiment of a generally disk-shaped thermoelectric heat exchanger system 100. The illustrated thermoelectric heat exchanger system 100 comprises a flattened cylindrical outer housing 110, which defines an interior cavity or chamber 111 (see FIG. 1D). The housing 110 generally comprises a top wall 112, a bottom wall 114 and a side wall 116. The top wall 112 and bottom wall 114 are generally flat and circular in the illustrated embodiment, and the side wall 116 is generally cylindrical. Those skilled in the art will understand that in other arrangements or embodiments the shape of the housing 110, top wall 112, bottom wall 114 side wall 116 and/or any other portion of the system 100 can be modified as desired or required.

A generally circular intake or inlet 122 can be provided at or near the center of the top wall 112. In other embodiments, an intake can be formed in the bottom wall 114, either in addition to or instead of the illustrated intake 122. A first outlet 124 comprises one or more openings formed in a top or upper portion of the side wall 116. Further, a second outlet 126 (shown in FIG. 1B) comprises one or more openings 126 formed around the periphery of the bottom wall 114. The intake 122, first outlet 124 and/or second outlet 126 may each extend into and may be in fluid communication with an interior cavity of the housing 110.

With continued reference to FIG. 1A, a motor-impeller or fan assembly 130 is disposed within the housing 110 and is visible through the intake 122. As shown, a portion of a flow director or separator 140 can bisect and extend through the side wall 116. In the illustrated embodiment, the flow director 140 divides the housing 110 into an upper portion 110 a that comprises the top wall 112 and an upper portion of the sidewall 116, and a lower portion 110 b that comprises a lower portion of the sidewall 116 and the bottom wall 114. The separator 140 is described in greater detail herein.

FIG. 1B is a bottom perspective view of the thermoelectric heat exchanger system 100, showing the second outlet 126 formed in the bottom wall 114. In many applications, the first outlet 124 and/or second outlet 126 are in fluid communication with a ducting system that directs conditioned fluid provided by the thermoelectric heat exchanger system 100 to and/or from one or more desired locations. Those skilled in the art will understand that other arrangements for the intake 122, first outlet 124 and second outlet 126 are used in other embodiments, depending on the particular application or use. For example, the shape and location of the illustrated embodiments of the intake 122, first outlet 124 and/or second outlet 126 can be modified in other embodiments as desired or required.

FIG. 1C is an exploded view of the thermoelectric heat exchanger system 100 illustrated in FIGS. 1A and 1B. From top to bottom, FIG. 1C illustrates the upper portion 110 a of the housing, a heat exchanger module system 150 comprising a plurality of heat exchanger modules 152, the flow director 140, and the lower portion 110 b of the housing into which is mounted the motor-impeller assembly 130. In the illustrated embodiment, the heat exchanger module system 150 comprises a plurality of heat exchanger modules 152 that are oriented in a polygonal arrangement, for example, as a regular hexagon. Such an arrangement is also referred to herein as a “polygonal heat exchanger module system,” which is discussed in greater detail herein. As is explained in greater detail herein, it is anticipated that in modified embodiments, the polygonal heat exchanger module system 150 can include more or fewer than six heat exchanger modules 152. In addition, while in the illustrated embodiment the heat exchanger modules 152 are generally rectangular with flat sides, it is anticipated that modified embodiments can include heat exchanger modules 152 with sides that are not flat. For example, in one particular arrangement, the heat exchanger system 150 comprises a plurality of arc-shaped segments that are arranged in a generally circular pattern.

FIG. 1D is a cross-sectional view along the circumferential edge of a thermoelectric heat exchanger system 100, which, because of the generally rotational symmetry of the device 100 around a central axis 102, shows approximately only one half of the device 100. As discussed, the housing 110 can comprise a top portion 110 a and a bottom portion 110 b. In the illustrated arrangement, a flow director 140 is disposed between the top 110 a and bottom 110 b portions of the housing. The motor-impeller assembly 130 is centrally mounted to the bottom wall 114 within the cavity 111 defined by the housing 110. The intake 122 is centrally formed on the top wall 112. The heat exchanger module 152 contacts the flow director 140, and extends between the top wall 112 and bottom wall 114 such that substantially all of the fluid flowing through the device 100 flows through one or more of the heat exchanger modules 152 situated therein.

With continued reference to the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 1D, the heat exchanger module 152 comprises a first heat exchanger 154, a second heat exchanger 156 and a thermoelectric device 160 generally positioned therebetween. In some arrangements, the heat exchange modules 152, 154 comprise fins (e.g., folded fins) or the like. The thermoelectric device 160 is advantageously adapted to convert electrical energy into a temperature differential or gradient. One example of a suitable thermoelectric device 160 is a Peltier device, which comprises at least one pair of dissimilar materials connected electrically in series and thermally in parallel, for example, a series of n-type and p-type semiconductor pellets or elements. In some arrangements, a plurality of the semiconductor pellets are disposed between a first substrate 164 and a second substrate 166. Depending on the direction of current passing through the thermoelectric device 160, one of the first 164 or second 166 substrates will be heated and the other will be cooled. The substrates 164 and 166 typically comprise materials known in the art with high thermal conductivity and low electrical conductivity, such as, for example, certain ceramic materials and/or polymer resins. In one embodiment, the substrates 164, 166 comprise polyimide (e.g., filled polyimide), epoxy and/or the like.

In the illustrated embodiments, the first heat exchanger 154 is thermally coupled to the first substrate 164 and the second heat exchanger 156 is thermally coupled to the second substrate 166. The heat exchangers are thermally coupled to the substrates by any suitable means. In one arrangement, the substrate comprises copper or other metallic members secured to one on or both sides of a polyimide layer. Thus, the heat exchangers (e.g., fins) can be welded or otherwise fastened to an outer layer of copper or other metal included in the substrate. In other arrangements, the heat exchangers can be thermally coupled to an adjacent substrate by disposing one or more thermal compounds therebetween, such as, for example, thermal adhesive, thermal epoxy, thermal grease, thermal paste, and/or other thermal compounds known in the art. In embodiments using a thermal adhesive and/or thermal epoxy, the thermal compound can also serve to mechanically secure the heat exchanger to the substrate. In some embodiments, the heat exchangers are secured to the substrates using mechanical fasteners known in the art. The heat exchangers 154 and 156 typically comprise thermally conductive materials formed in a high surface-area geometry, for example, as fins, blades, pins, channels and/or the like, that permits radial fluid flow.

As discussed in greater detail herein, in some embodiments, the first 154 and second 156 heat exchangers are radially segmented (e.g., in the direction of fluid flow, in a direction generally perpendicular to the direction of flow and/or in any other direction). Segmenting a heat exchanger can help increase the efficiency of the heat transfer from the heat exchanger to a fluid by thermally isolating adjacent segments from each other. In addition, segmentation of the heat exchangers and/or the substrate can help reduce the thermal stresses to the system when air or other fluid is being heated or cooled by the thermoelectric device. In other embodiments, the first 154 and second 156 heat exchangers can be formed without radial segmentation or with partial radial segmentation.

In the illustrated embodiment, the flow director 140 or divider contacts and extends radially from the thermoelectric device 160, which together with the top wall 112 and upper portion of the side wall 116, define a first chamber 118 around the periphery of the top of the cavity 111. Similarly, the flow director 140, thermoelectric device 160, bottom wall 114 and lower portion of the side wall 116 define a second chamber 119 around the periphery of the bottom of the cavity. Because heated fluid will flow through one of the first 118 and second 119 chambers and cooled fluid will flow through the other, in some embodiments, the flow director 140 comprises a thermally insulating material known in the art. Examples of suitable thermally insulating materials comprise one or more polymer resins, for example, polyurethane, polyvinyl chloride, polypropylene, polyethylene, polyolefin, acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene, acrylic, polyamide, polyester, polyimide, polysulfone, polyurea, polycarbonate, and copolymers, blends, and mixtures thereof. In some embodiments, the thermally insulating material is expanded, for example, using a blowing agent, which improves the insulation value of the material. Some embodiments of the flow director 140 comprise a composite material, which provides, for example, both the desired insulating properties as well as the desired mechanical properties. For example, in some embodiments, a composite is formed comprising one or more polymer materials, and one or more fiber reinforcing materials known in the art (e.g., fiber glass, carbon fiber, boron fiber, etc.). In preferred embodiments, substantially no fluid flows between the first chamber 118 and the second chamber 119. The first outlet 124 can place the first chamber 118 in fluid communication with a first exterior portion of the device 100, while the second outlet 126 can place the second chamber 119 in fluid communication with a second exterior portion of the device 100.

As shown in the embodiment of a heat exchanger module 152 illustrated in FIG. 1E, the first heat exchanger 154 and second heat exchanger 156 can be longer (radially) than the thermoelectric device, thereby forming a slot 158. With reference now to FIG. 1F, in the illustrated arrangement, at least a portion of the flow director 140 is dimensioned and configured to be received in the slot 158 generally formed between the heat exchangers 154, 156. Accordingly, in some embodiments, the flow director 140 and vertical dimension of the slot 158 of the thermoelectric device 160 have substantially the same thickness. In the illustrated embodiment, the flow director 140 comprises a plurality of engagement members 142 dimensioned to engage and secure each heat exchanger module 152 laterally (i.e., at their respective ends), thereby reducing lateral movement thereof.

With continued reference to FIG. 1D, the motor-impeller assembly 130 can include a plurality of fan blades 132 secured to a motor rotor 134. Details of electrical circuitry current paths and terminals that power the thermoelectric device 160 and the motor-impeller assembly 130 are omitted for clarity.

In use, a fluid, for example, air, is drawn into the thermoelectric heat exchanger system 100 through the intake 122 by the motor-impeller assembly 130, which compresses or otherwise exerts energy on the fluid. Consequently, the air or other fluid can be expelled radially into the chamber 111 within the housing 110. A first portion of fluid is forced through the first heat exchanger 154, which, for example, cools the first portion of fluid. The cooled first portion of fluid then enters the first chamber 118 and exits the device through the first outlet 124 (e.g., waste outlet). Likewise, a second portion of fluid is forced through the second heat exchanger 156, which in this example, heats the second portion of fluid. The second portion of fluid enters the second chamber 119 and exits the device 100 through the second outlet 126 (e.g., main outlet). In the illustrated embodiment, the first and second heat exchangers 154, 156 and the first and second chambers 118, 119 are all positioned within the housing 110 and thus part of the cavity 111 defined by the housing 110.

Arrows in FIG. 1D indicate the general fluid flow through the heat exchanger system 100. With reference to these arrows, in the illustrated arrangement, the fluid enters the system 100 in a first direction A that is generally parallel or substantially parallel to the rotational axis of the motor-impeller assembly 130 and perpendicular to the disc-shaped housing 110. The fluid is then turned approximately 90 degrees such that it is directed in a substantially radial direction B with respect to the rotational axis of the motor-impeller assembly 130. The flow continues in this radial direction through the first and the second heat exchangers 154, 156. In the illustrated arrangement, the flow through the first heat exchanger 154 continues radially through the first outlet 124 and out of the housing 110. In the illustrated embodiment, the flow through the second heat exchanger 156 continues and is turned about 90 degrees by the side wall 116 and exits through the second outlet 126 and out of the housing 110 in a direction that is generally perpendicular to the radial direction B and parallel to the rotational axis of the motor-impeller assembly 130. Those skilled in the art will understand that in modified embodiments the first outlet 124 and/or the second outlet 126 can be independently configured to discharge fluid radially, tangentially, axially or in any intermediate direction.

In one embodiment, the first heat exchanger 154 comprises the “waste side” of the heat exchanger system 100. That is, the flow of the air through the second heat exchanger 156 can be directed to a surface of a seating assembly (e.g., vehicle seat, bed, etc.) that is to be cooled and/or heated by the heat exchanger system 100. Depending whether the air through the second heat exchanger is to be heated or cooled, heat is either removed from or transferred to the air flowing through the first heat exchanger 152. In modified embodiments, the system 100 can be reversed, with the second heat exchanger 156 operating as the “waste side” of the heat exchanger system 100. For example, such a reversal in heating and cooling modes can be accomplished by changing the direction of the current being delivered to the Peltier circuit or other thermoelectric device.

According to some embodiments, as illustrated in FIGS. 1G-1I and discussed in greater detail herein, a heat exchanger module system can include one or more heat exchange systems (e.g., thermoelectric devices, heat exchangers, etc.) that are not positioned around the entire periphery of system. For example, in the arrangement illustrated in FIG. 1G, the system comprises a total of three heat exchange systems 150′ that are oriented (e.g., at equally or substantially equally spaced intervals, such as 120 degree increments) around a center impeller 130′. In other embodiments, the quantity, size, shape, spacing, location and/or other details of the heat exchange systems 150′ can vary, as desired or required. In some embodiments, the heat exchange systems 150′ are electrically connected to each other (e.g., the pellets are electrically connected in series to one another). However, in other arrangements, the heat exchange systems 150′ are powered and controlled separately of each other.

Intermittently spaced heat exchange systems 150′, as illustrated in FIGS. 1G-1I, function in a similar manner as those that include a heat exchange system around the entire or most of the system (e.g., FIGS. 1C, 2A, etc.). Air is directed to one or more of the heat exchange systems 150′ for thermal conditioning. As discussed, a portion of the air exits the system through a main outlet while the remainder of the air exits the system through a waste outlet. The housing of the system can include openings that are intermittently located. For example, in one embodiment, the openings (e.g., outlets, exits, etc.) generally coincide with the location, size, space and/or other characteristics of the heat exchange systems 150′.

The system depicted in FIG. 1H is similar to the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 1G and discussed herein. However, as shown, the illustrated system includes only two heat exchange systems 150″ that are positioned generally on opposite ends of the impeller 130″. In FIGS. 1G and 1H, the heat exchange systems include a curved shape to generally match the contoured shape of the housing, the impeller and/or one or more other components or features of the system. However, as illustrated in FIG. 1I, the heat exchange systems 150′″ can include a generally rectangular shape or any other shape.

The embodiments illustrated in FIGS. 1G-1I can help reduce manufacturing costs of such assemblies as the size and complexity of the heat exchange modules (e.g., the quantity of components, amount of materials needed, etc.) is reduced. Such a configuration can also help provide additional packaging flexibility to an assembly.

FIG. 2A illustrates a top view of a modified embodiment of a polygonal heat exchanger module system 2200 that can be used in a heat exchanger system 100 as described herein. In contrast to the embodiment illustrated described above, the embodiment of FIG. 2A comprises a set of eight heat exchanger modules 2210, each of which form at least a portion of a side of the polygon. Collectively, the heat exchanger modules 2210 form at least a portion of a perimeter of the polygonal heat exchanger module system 2200. An opening 2240 in the heat exchanger module system 2200 is shaped, dimensioned and otherwise configured to receive, for example, a motor-impeller assembly, as discussed above. In the illustrated embodiment, the heat exchanger modules 2210 also define at least a portion of the perimeter of the opening 2240. The illustrated embodiment is generally symmetrical about a central axis 2250, forming a regular polygon (e.g., an octagon). Those skilled in the art will understand that other embodiments may not be rotationally symmetrical.

In the illustrated embodiment, adjacent heat exchanger modules 2210 generally abut each other, thereby forming a closed figure with small gaps or without any gaps at all. Such a configuration can help direct fluid through the heat exchanger module system 2200. As discussed, the illustrated heat exchanger module system 2200 is suitable for use, for example, in the heat exchanger system illustrated in FIGS. 1A-1F. Each heat exchanger module 2210 can comprise first and second (not illustrated) heat exchangers that are thermally coupled to opposite faces of a thermoelectric device 2216. In some embodiments, the area of the thermoelectric device 2216 is not coextensive with the areas of the first 2212 and second (not illustrated) heat exchangers. For example, in the illustrated embodiment, the thermoelectric device 2216 is narrower than the first 2212 and second heat exchangers, as indicated by the shading. Thus, the heat exchanger module system 2200 is configured to permit fluid flow from the opening 2240 inside the polygon to outside the polygon through the heat exchangers thermally coupled to the thermoelectric devices. As discussed, this can allow such air or other fluid to be selectively heated or cooled, as desired.

In the illustrated embodiment, each heat exchanger module 2210 is generally rectangular or linear as viewed from the top, in contrast to the curved heat exchanger modules discussed below. Embodiments of systems incorporating rectangular heat exchanger modules can provide one or more of the following advantages: ease of manufacture of the thermoelectric device 2216 and/or heat exchanger module 2210; reduced cost; interchangeability; replaceability; design flexibility; and the like. For example, although the illustrated embodiment comprises heat exchanger modules 2210 substantially of generally equal dimensions, other embodiments comprise heat exchanger modules with at least two different dimensions.

In other embodiments, a heat exchanger module system comprises a plurality of thermoelectric devices defining a least a portion of a perimeter of a polygon, and first and second heat exchangers thermally coupled thereto. At least one of the first and second heat exchangers spans adjacent thermoelectric devices. For example, some embodiments comprise unitary annular heat exchangers of the type illustrated in FIGS. 7A and 7B that are sized, shaped and otherwise configured to extend along some or all of the heat exchanger modules (e.g., thermoelectric devices, substrates, etc.) included within a particular housing, such as those illustrated in FIGS. 2A-2C. Accordingly, the advantages of a polygonal array of thermoelectric devices with the heat transfer advantages of unitary, annular heat exchangers, can be combined, as discussed in greater detail herein.

FIG. 2B illustrates a top view of another embodiment of a heat exchanger module system 2200 which is similar to the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 2A. However, as shown, the embodiment depicted in FIG. 2B includes a total of six heat exchanger modules 2210. The embodiment of a heat exchanger module system 2200 illustrated in a top view in FIG. 2C is similar to the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 2B except that it comprises gaps 2202 between adjacent heat exchanger modules 2210. In some embodiments, the gaps 2202 improve the manufacturability of the heat exchanger module system 2200. For example, such gaps can permit wider dimensional tolerances for one or more of the individual components. The gaps 2202 can also permit relative motion of the heat exchanger modules 2210 and/or components thereof, for example, thermal expansion and contraction, mechanical motion and/or the like. Gaps between heat exchanger modules can be filled, for example, using a suitably configured flow director and/or using separate filler strips, thereby preventing fluid from bypassing the heat exchanger module system. Other embodiments do not comprise gaps between every adjacent pair of heat exchanger modules. It will be appreciated that in embodiments that comprise gaps between adjacent heat exchanger modules, the size of such gaps can vary as desired or required by a particular application.

FIG. 2D illustrates a portion of an embodiment of a system 2200 for coupling adjacent heat exchanger modules 2210, mechanically and/or electrically. In the illustrated embodiment, each heat exchanger module 2210 comprises a coupling member 2230 in the form of an interconnect tab at each end that is dimensioned and configured to couple one or more components (e.g., substrates, heat exchangers, etc.) and/or portions of adjacent heat exchanger modules 2210, mechanically and/or electrically. For example, the substrates of adjacent heat exchanger modules 2210 can be electrically coupled to each other to advantageously transmit an electrical current throughout the pellets of two or more adjacent thermoelectric devices. The coupling members 2230 are coupled by any method known in the art, for example, using plugs, sockets, quick connects, clips, solder joints, welds, screws, swages, rivets, adhesives, combinations thereof and/or the like. As discussed, one or more portions or components of adjacent heat exchange modules (e.g., thermoelectric devices, substrates, fins or other heat exchangers, etc.) can be joined to each other using one or more attachment methods or devices. In some embodiments, the modules are electrically and/or thermally connected to each other to simplify the design of the system.

As illustrated in FIG. 2E, adjacent heat exchange modules can be attached to each other along coupling members 2230′ or another portion that extends along the edges of the modules. In some embodiments, the coupling members 2230′ are generally rectangular tab members that are shaped, sized and otherwise configured to overlap with coupling members 2230′ of adjacent heat exchange modules. In some arrangements, the coupling members 2230′ comprise a metal layer or strip or another conductive member that is configured to place the thermoelectric devices of the adjacent modules in electrical communication with one another. As a result, a current supplied to one module can be advantageously transmitted to one or more other modules within a particular system.

FIG. 2F illustrates a side view of adjacent coupling members 2230′ being spot welded to each other. As shown, spot welding electrodes E+, E− can be positioned along opposite ends of the coupling members 2230′. Once a sufficient force has been applied to urge the coupling members 2230′ into contact with one another, a current can be passed from one electrode E+ to the other electrode E−. This process can result in a spot weld 2268 being formed at or near a location where the coupling members 2230′ are in contact with one another.

In some embodiments, the coupling members 2230′ are simply an extension of the upper and/or lower substrate of the thermoelectric device. As discussed, such a substrate preferably includes a thermally conductive and electrically insulating layer, such as, for example, polyimide, ceramic and/or the like. As a result, the extension of such an electrically non-conductive layer into the coupling members 2230′ can make it additionally difficult to spot weld the coupling members 2230′ to each other, as there must a conductive path for the electrical current to pass from one electrode E+ to the other electrode E−, through the coupling members 2230′. Consequently, the electrically non-conductive layer or portion (e.g., polyimide, ceramic, etc.) of the substrate may need to be removed, penetrated or otherwise compromised before the spot welding process can be completed.

FIG. 2G illustrates a side view of two coupling members 2230′ that are essentially a continuation of the substrates 2264 (e.g., upper or lower) of the thermoelectric devices in the adjacent heat exchange modules. As shown, each coupling member 2230′ includes a metal (e.g., copper) layer 2266 that is configured to contact or be adjacent to a metal layer 2266 of the adjacent coupling member 2230′. In addition, the opposite sides of the substrate 2264 include a layer of polyimide 2265, ceramic or some other electrically non-conductive material. Thus, as discussed, this layer of electrically non-conductive material 2265 may need to be removed, sliced, punctured or otherwise compromised before a spot weld 2268 can be formed between the coupling members 2230′.

According to one embodiment, a spot weld 2268 can be formed between adjacent coupling members 2230′ without compromising the electrically non-conductive layer 2265 is illustrated in FIG. 2H. As shown, electrodes E+, E− may be positioned along the metal layers 2266 of each coupling member 2230′ in locations that are not horizontally aligned with each other. Consequently, for stability, there may be a need to apply counteracting or balancing forces B opposite of each electrode E+, E−. In addition, pinching or squeezing forces F may be applied along the portion of the coupling members 2230′ where the spot weld 2268 is desired to ensure proper contact between the metal layers or member 2266. As shown, electrical current can be routed through the metal layer or member 2266 along a less direct route than normally conducted when spot welding (e.g., FIG. 2F). Nevertheless, this spot welding method may allow an adequate spot weld 2268 to be formed between the coupling members 2230′ without the need to remove polyimide or another electrically non-conductive layer therefrom. It will be appreciated that such a spot welding technique can be applied to other fields of use besides connecting adjacent heat exchange modules of a heat exchanger system.

FIG. 2I illustrates a top view of a plurality of heat exchanger modules 150 positioned within a heat exchange assembly. As discussed, the modules 150 can be oriented in such a way that creates gaps 188 between adjacent heat exchangers (e.g., fins) that are in thermal communication with thermoelectric devices. In order to ensure that air or other fluid being moved by the blower does not bypass or short-circuit the heat exchangers of the modules 150, flow-blocking tabs 190 or other members can be strategically positioned at one or more such gaps 188. In some embodiments, the tabs 190 are attached to the housing (e.g., the upper plate, the lower plate, the sidewalls, etc.). However, in other embodiments, the tabs 190 or other flow-blocking members are attached to the modules 150 and/or another portion of the assembly.

FIG. 3A illustrates a top view of an embodiment of a heat exchanger module system 2300 comprising a plurality of heat exchanger modules 2310 and a plurality of coupling members 2360 coupling adjacent heat exchanger modules 2310. A terminal coupling member 2370 extends from each terminal heat exchanger module 2310 a. Embodiments of the system 2300 are useful, for example, for fabricating a heat exchanger module system similar to that illustrated in FIG. 2A. Each heat exchanger module 2310 is substantially as described above, comprising a thermoelectric device and first and second heat exchangers.

With continued reference to FIG. 3A, an edge of each of the heat exchanger modules 2310, an edge of each of the coupling members 2360 and an edge of each of the terminal coupling members 2370 can be substantially collinear. The illustrated embodiment is, for example, the configuration of the device 2300 as manufactured. However, those skilled in the art will understand that different arrangements can be used in other embodiments. In the illustrated embodiment, the coupling members 2360 mechanically and electrically couple adjacent heat exchanger modules 2310, and the terminal coupling members 2370 are mechanically and electrically coupled to the terminal heat exchanger modules 2310 a. In some arrangements, at least a portion of each coupling member 2360 is flexible, bendable and/or deformable, as will be described in greater detail below.

FIG. 3B illustrates a top view of a conversion of the heat exchanger module system 2300 from the linear configuration illustrated in FIG. 3A (in phantom), into a polygonal (e.g., hexagonal in the illustrated embodiment) configuration. In the illustrated embodiment, the conversion is effected by bending or deforming the coupling members 2360 to provide the desired configuration. In the illustrated embodiment, the terminal coupling members 2370 are proximal in the final configuration.

FIGS. 3C and 3D are perspective views of a possible folding of the coupling members 2360 to reconfigure the device 2300 from the linear form illustrated in FIG. 2300A to the closed form such as the one illustrated in FIG. 3B.

FIG. 4A illustrates a top view of a detail of another embodiment of a coupling member 2460 and adjacent heat exchanger modules 2410 suitable for fabricating a heat exchanger module system of the type generally illustrated in FIG. 2A. FIGS. 4B and 4C illustrate suitable foldings or deformations of the coupling member 2460. As best seen in FIG. 4B, portions 2462 of the coupling member 2460 can be positioned downstream of the heat exchanger module 2410, and consequently, be configured to partially or completely block airflow therefrom.

FIG. 5A illustrates a top view of a detail of another embodiment of a coupling member 2560 and adjacent heat exchanger modules 2510 suitable for fabricating a heat exchanger module system of the type illustrated in FIG. 2A. FIGS. 5B and 5C illustrate suitable foldings or deformations of the coupling member 2560.

FIG. 6A illustrates a top view of a detail of another embodiment of a coupling member 2660 and adjacent heat exchanger modules 2610 suitable for fabricating a heat exchanger module system of the type illustrated in FIG. 2A. FIGS. 6B and 6C illustrate suitable foldings or deformations of the coupling member 2660. In the folded configurations illustrated in FIGS. 5A and 6A, because no portion of the coupling member 2560, 2660 is positioned downstream of a heat exchanger module 2510, 2610, airflow blockage is not a problem.

Furthermore, as best seen in FIG. 6A, the coupling member 2660 can be formed entirely within the envelope of the heat exchanger modules 2610 (e.g., that is, within the bounds of the width of the heat exchanger modules). Consequently, in embodiments in which at least a portion of the coupling member 2660 is formed integrally with at least a portion of the heat exchanger module 2610, for example, with the substrate or other portion or component of the thermoelectric device, the illustrated embodiment can be manufactured with reduced waste compared with embodiments in which the coupling member extends beyond the envelope of the heat exchanger module, for example, the embodiments illustrated in FIGS. 4A-4C and 5A-5C. An exemplary layout of two heat exchanger modules 2610 is illustrated in FIG. 6D, showing such an efficient layout. Accordingly, embodiments of the heat exchanger module system illustrated in FIGS. 6A-6C can be more efficient, easier and/or less expensive to manufacture.

FIG. 6E illustrates one embodiment of a printed circuit board (PCB) 180 or other electrical bus that can be used to facilitate attaching one or more heat exchanger modules 150 thereto. As shown, the PCB 180 or other base member can include a plurality of slits 182 or other connection points onto which ends 151 of a module 150 can be mounted. The slits 182 can be configured to permit the ends 151 of a module 150 to be placed in electrical communication with one another (e.g., in a series configuration) using a main electrical strip 181 or conductive member that advantageously is exposed at each slit 182. As a result, one or more modules 150 (e.g., thermoelectric devices, fins or other heat exchangers, etc.) can be easily secured to the PCB 180 or similar base. For example, the modules 150 can include end terminals 151 that can be soldered to the PCB 180 at the slits 182 or other connection points. This permits a user to conveniently customize a particular assembly by choosing the quantity, type and other details regarding the heat exchanger modules 150. Further, the simple connection to the PCB eliminates the need for more complicated, labor intensive and expensive electrical connections between adjacent modules 150. It will be appreciated that a PCB or other electrical bus member can be incorporated into any of the embodiments illustrated and/or described herein, or equivalents thereof.

The embodiments illustrated in FIGS. 4-6 are also useful in heat exchanger systems comprising a plurality of thermoelectric devices defining a perimeter of a polygon thermally coupled to first and second heat exchangers, at least a portion of which spans a plurality of thermoelectric devices, for example, a heat exchanger similar to the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 7B, which is discussed below.

FIG. 7A illustrates a perspective view of an embodiment of a heat exchanger module 1900 suitable for use in a heat exchanger system, for example, the systems described and/or illustrated herein (e.g., FIG. 1, 9, etc.). The illustrated heat exchanger module 1900 comprises a thermoelectric device 1910, a first heat exchanger 1920 disposed on an upper surface of the thermoelectric device 1910 and a second heat exchanger 1930 disposed on a lower surface of the thermoelectric device 1910. In the illustrated embodiment, the thermoelectric device 1910 is in the form of a thin, ring-shaped or annular disk defined by minor (R1) radius forming a perimeter of an opening 1940 and major (R2) radius forming a perimeter of the heat exchanger module 1900. In some embodiments, the opening 1940 is dimensioned and configured to receive a motor-impeller assembly, for example, as described above and illustrated in FIG. 1D. In the illustrated embodiment, each of the heat exchangers 1920 and 1930 is substantially ring-shaped, with similar or substantially similar heights (H), and with similar or substantially similar minor (R1) and major (R2) radii as the thermoelectric device 1910. However, in other arrangements, the relative heights (H), the minor and/or major radii and/or any other property of the module may be varied as desired or required.

In the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 7A, the heat exchangers 1920 and 1930 are manufactured by pleating or fan-folding one or more thermally conductive materials to form a plurality of fins 1922, as illustrated in FIGS. 7B-7D. Those skilled in the art will understand that other embodiments may use different fan-fold geometries. As depicted in FIGS. 7C and 7D, which are detailed views of the heat exchanger 1920 shown in FIG. 7B, the fins 1922 are closer together at the minor radius R1 and spread farther apart in the radial direction to a maximum spacing at the major radius R2. Accordingly, the fin density is highest at the center of the heat exchangers 1920 and 1930, which in the illustrated arrangement is upstream in the fluid flow, and lowest at the outer edge, which is downstream in the fluid flow.

In some arrangements, heat transfer for a fluid flow through a pipe may depend on two variables of interest: the heat transfer coefficient, h, and the heat transfer surface area, A. It is generally known that the heat transfer coefficient h is highest at the pipe inlet, here the upstream end of the heat exchanger at R1. The surface area A is also highest at R1 because the fin density is highest there. Both of these effects combine to provide improved heat exchange in heat exchangers with higher fin densities at the inlet and lower fin densities at the outlet, which is achieved in the illustrated embodiment by bending or deforming a putative rectangular heat exchanger around an axis normal to the top and bottom of the heat exchanger to modify the fin spacing. In the illustrated embodiment, the deformation is circular, resulting in a ring-shaped heat exchanger. Those skilled in the art will understand that the same result is achieved using other deformations in other embodiments, for example deformation into an arc shape.

FIG. 7E illustrates a cross section of the heat exchanger module 1900 along section E-E of FIG. 7A. The thermoelectric device 1910 comprises a first substrate 1912, a second substrate 1914 and a plurality of semiconductor pellets 1916 disposed therebetween. The semiconductor pellets 1916 are of any type known in the art for converting electrical energy into a temperature gradient. The substrates 1912 and 1914 typically comprise materials with high thermal conductivity and low electrical conductivity known in the art, as discussed above.

The first heat exchanger 1920 is secured to the first substrate 1912 (e.g., a copper or other metal layer disposed on the substrate) and the second heat exchanger 1930 is similarly secured to the second substrate 1914. As discussed, the heat exchangers 1920 and 1930 are typically secured to the substrates 1912 and 1914, respectively, in a manner that provides a suitable thermal conductivity therebetween, while ensuring that the two portions will remain adequately connected to one another during use.

In use, one of the first substrate 1912 and second substrate 1914 warms (hot), while the other cools (cold) when a voltage is applied across the pellets. For materials with normal (positive) coefficients of thermal expansion, the hot substrate expands, and the cold substrate contracts, as illustrated in FIG. 7F, in which the first substrate 1912 is the hot substrate and the second substrate 1914 is the cold substrate. This differential expansion of the substrates 1912 and 1914 produces shear and bending moments and stresses at the pellets 1906, which can lead to mechanical failure of the thermoelectric device 1910. The physical deformation of the thermoelectric device 1910 can also affect fluid dynamics in the heat exchanger system, thereby reducing efficiency of the system. The magnitudes of the shear and bending forces and stresses may depend on the coefficient(s) of thermal expansion of the substrates 1912 and 1914, the temperature differential (ΔT=Th−Tc), the size (e.g., length, width, thickness, etc.) of the substrates 1912 and 1914 (L) and/or one or more other factors.

FIG. 7G illustrates a top view of the thermoelectric device 1910 depicted in FIG. 7A during use, showing the expansion of the first substrate 1912 and the contraction of the second substrate 1914. The effective length L for this device 1910 is the outer diameter (2R2) of the entire thermoelectric device 1910, rather than the difference between the major and minor radii (R2−R1), which is smaller. Such a larger effective dimension may result in relatively large shear and bending forces in the illustrated embodiment.

FIGS. 8A and 8B illustrate top and bottom views, respectively, of an annular thermoelectric device 2010 that reduces at least some of the detrimental effects of the differential expansion, while retaining the advantage of increased heat transfer from curved or ring-shaped heat exchangers. The thermoelectric device 2010 is similar to the thermoelectric device 1910 illustrated in FIGS. 7A-7F, with a generally circular shape, and is suitable for similar applications, for example, as a component of a thermoelectric heat exchanger module as illustrated in FIG. 7A and/or in the thermoelectric heat exchanger system illustrated in FIG. 1. The depicted thermoelectric device 2010 comprises first and second substrates 2012 and 2014, respectively, and a plurality of pellets (not illustrated) disposed therebetween. A generally circular opening 2040 is provided, for example, to receive a motor-impeller assembly as discussed above. In the illustrated embodiment, the second substrate 2014 and the pellets are generally as described above for the thermoelectric device 1910. The first substrate 2012, however, comprises a plurality of sectors or pieces 2012 a. In the illustrated embodiment, the sectors 2012 a are substantially rotationally symmetrical around a central axis 2050. Accordingly, each of the seven sectors 2012 a has a generally similar size. Those skilled in the art will understand that other embodiments comprise unequally sized sectors, and/or other more or fewer sectors. Because the sectors 2012 a of the first substrate are free to move individually rather than as a single unit, the relevant length L in evaluating the shear and bending forces induced by a temperature differential between the first 2012 and second 2014 substrates is the radial width of each sector 2012 a (R2−R1) and/or the circumferential width W of each sector 2012 a, whichever is larger, rather than the diameter of the substrate 2010 (2R2). Because R2−R1 is less than 2R2, and in some embodiments, significantly less, the shear and bending forces and stresses can be advantageously reduced. In essence, dividing the first substrate 2012 into sectors 2012 a provides “expansion joints” 2013 therefor. It will be appreciated that a substrate can comprise such expansion joints 2013 or gaps in the radial and/or circumferential direction, as desired or required.

In the illustrated embodiment, the sectors 2012 a are generally arc-shaped, or truncated wedges, corresponding to the single-piece first substrate 1912 (FIG. 7G) with a plurality of generally radial cuts, thereby resulting in a plurality of laterally or circumferentially separated sectors that define at least a portion of the perimeter of the first substrate 1912. In the illustrated embodiment, the sectors 2012 a, define both the perimeter of the first substrate 2012 (R1) as well as the perimeter of the opening 2040 (R2). In some embodiments, an annular first heat exchanger similar to the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 7B is thermally coupled to the first substrate 2010. Other embodiments use a multicomponent heat exchanger, for example, each component corresponding to a sector 2012 a. In other arrangements, a single heat exchanger can extend, partially or completely, over two or more different sectors 2012 a of a substrate having expansion joints. The sectored substrate 2012 is distinct from the segmented heat exchangers described above in connection with the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 1D, which are generally radially rather than laterally separated. Some embodiments of a heat exchanger module or system comprising the sectored substrate 2012 also comprise one or more radially segmented heat exchangers, which provide thermal isolation between the segments in the direction of flow and improved thermal performance.

FIG. 7H is a top view of an embodiment of a portion of a first substrate 2010, which is divided into sectors 2010 a both laterally and radially, thereby even further reducing mechanical stress that arises from a temperature differential between the first and second substrates of the thermoelectric device. Accordingly, by segmenting the substrates in a circumferential direction stress can be reduced in the circumferential direction during heating and/or cooling. In addition, segmentation in the radial direction can also reduce stress if there is a large radial dimension in the device. In addition, radial segmentation can also provide for thermal isolation that can result in more efficient heat transfer. For additional details regarding the reduction of thermal stresses imposed during the use of a thermoelectric device, please refer to U.S. Patent Application No. 60/951,432, filed Jul. 23, 2007 and the non-provisional application (application serial number unknown), filed on Jul. 23, 2008 and titled SEGMENTED THERMOELECTRIC DEVICE, which claims the priority benefit under 35 U.S.C. § 119(e) of U.S. Patent Application No. 60/951,432, the entireties of which are hereby incorporated by reference herein.

FIG. 9A illustrates a top view of a sheet 2109A of a thermally conductive, electrically non-conductive material which may be cut or otherwise shaped to supply the upper and/or lower substrates of an annular thermoelectric device 2110 similar to the embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 8A and 8B. The sheet 2109A or other member from which the substrate for the thermoelectric device 2110 is obtained can comprise a relatively large rectangular shape. As illustrated in FIG. 9A, in embodiments where the thermoelectric device 2110 includes a generally curved shape, the substrate can comprise a plurality of arc-shaped member. This may be the case when one of the substrates (e.g., upper or lower) of the thermoelectric device includes radial expansion joints to help relieve thermal stresses during use, as discussed in greater detail herein. Thus, the first substrate 2112 may be divided into sectors 2112 a similar to the first substrate 2012 of the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 8A.

With continued reference to FIG. 9A, the use of such arc-shaped substrates can help increase the “packing efficiency” of the substrate sheet from which the individual substrate portions are extracted. In other words, the amount of material of the sheet 2109A that is wasted (e.g., not capable of being used to cut out or otherwise be used to provide a portion of a substrate) can be advantageously reduced. This can lower the manufacturing and/or assembly cost for such devices, especially where the relative cost of the substrate material is relatively high. In contrast, one of skill in the art will appreciate that the amount of “wasted” sheet material would be significantly higher if a single annular substrate (FIG. 8B) was used in lieu of a plurality of segmented arc-shaped portions.

Heat exchanger modules fabricated from the thermoelectric device 2110 further comprise a first heat exchanger thermally coupled to the first substrate 2112 and a second heat exchanger thermally coupled to the second substrate 2114, as described above. In some embodiments, the first and second heat exchangers substantially correspond in shape to the arc-shaped thermoelectric device subunits 2110 a, thereby forming arc-shaped heat exchanger submodules. Alternatively, each of the arc-shaped heat exchanger units can be viewed as an individual heat exchanger module, and the assembly of the individual heat exchanger modules viewed as forming a heat exchanger module assembly or system.

In other embodiments, the boundaries of at least one of the first and second heat exchangers does not substantially correspond to one of the boundaries to at least one of the arc-shaped thermoelectric device subunits 2110 a. For example, in some embodiments, each of the first and second heat exchangers comprise a unitary heat exchanger, for example, as illustrated in FIG. 7B. In some embodiments, at least one of the first and second substrate of the thermoelectric device comprises sectors that are divided radially, essentially forming concentric thermoelectric devices in some embodiments. A detailed description of such an arrangement can be found in U.S. Pat. No. 6,539,725, the entirety of which is hereby incorporated by reference herein.

FIG. 9B illustrates a top view of an embodiment of a thermoelectric device 2110 in which a plurality of substrate portions 2110 a, in the illustrated embodiment, three thermoelectric device subunits, are nested in a radial direction. As discussed, when compared to a single circular or donut shaped substrate, the use of a plurality of arc-shaped substrates 2110 a may help reduce manufacturing costs by reducing waste. Specifically, the arc-shaped substrate portions may be cut next to each other in a stacked or nested arrangement to reduce waste between cutouts as shown in FIG. 9B. In contrast, the use of circular or donut-shaped thermoelectric devices may result in a larger amount of wasted substrate material (e.g., polyimide with copper or other metal portions on one or both of its surfaces) as the hole of the substrate is wasted when the annular or donut-shaped substrate portions are cut or stamped out of a sheet or other member 2109C (see FIG. 9C).

With reference to FIG. 9D, it will be appreciated that the use of rectangular substrate portions can further reduce the amount of waste material produced when the sheet 2109D of thermally conductive material is being cut or otherwise processed. As shown, in some embodiments, the use of rectangular substrates can help minimize the amount of wasted substrate material, as the sheet 2109D can simply be cut along a plurality of horizontal and vertical lines. One embodiment of a device that comprises a plurality of rectangular thermoelectric devices 2112D that would be configured to use such rectangular substrate portions in illustrated in FIG. 9D.

As was described herein with reference to FIG. 1D, the air from the first heat exchanger 154 (e.g., waste air) can be directed in a radial direction while the air from the second heat exchanger 156 (e.g., main air) can be directed in a direction that is parallel to the rotational axis of the motor-impeller assembly 130. In addition to the different exit directions, the flow from the motor-impeller may be biased to the lower side of the cavity 111. This can result in uneven flow between heat exchangers 154, 156. In general, it is desirable to have equal or approximately equal amount of air delivered to both heat exchangers 154, 156.

FIG. 10 illustrates a modified heat exchanger system 300. In the depicted embodiment, the upper and lower housing portions 302, 304 and the separator 306 are configured such that the first and second heat exchangers 154, 156 are positioned lower than the embodiments of FIGS. 1A-1D described above. Accordingly, the air exiting the motor-impeller assembly 130 moves in a radial and downward direction before entering the first and second heat exchangers 154, 156. This arrangement pushes more air through the first heat exchanger 154 compensating for the bias of air to the lower portions of the cavity 111.

FIG. 1A illustrates additional embodiments in which flow-conditioning or flow-directing fins or vanes 320 can be positioned upstream and/or downstream of the first and second exchangers 154, 156. These vanes can be used to provide for lateral distribution of air flow through the outlet of the device. In some embodiments, the fins or vanes 320 are configured to provide equal or substantially equal flow to the thermoelectric devices. In other embodiments, such fins or vanes 320 are used to achieve a desired flow pattern.

FIG. 11B illustrates an embodiment in which the outlet 126 of the second heat exchanger 156 is provided with fins or vanes 322 that can be selectively used to restrict flow and thus bias flow though the first heat exchanger 154. It will be appreciated that one or more other devices or methods can be used to distribute and/or condition air as it is directed radially away from the impeller toward one or more thermoelectric devices and/or outlets.

As discussed, the air or other fluid displaced by an impeller may not be directed in a direction that allows easy fluid entry into the fins or other heat exchangers. Thus, as illustrated in FIGS. 11C and 11D, the heat exchanger system 150C can be configured to better receive the air directed toward it by the impeller 130C. With reference to the detailed top view of FIG. 11D, adjacent fins 156C or other heat exchangers can be oriented in such a way as to facilitate entry of fluid therethrough. For example, the fins 156C can be skewed relative to radial direction by a particular angle θ2 that is generally adapted to match or substantially match the anticipated airflow direction A. As a result, fluid head-losses through the system can be advantageously reduced. Further, such features can help reduce noise, improve the efficiency of the system and provide one or more other advantages.

FIGS. 11E-11G illustrates various other embodiments of heat exchanger systems 150E, 150F, 150G that are configured to better accommodate air or other fluid as it approaches the leading end of these systems. For example, as with the arrangement illustrated in FIG. 1 ID, the three embodiments depicted in FIGS. 11E-11G comprise fins 156E, 156F, 156G with leading ends that are curved according to the anticipated direction of the airflow A leaving the impeller.

As shown in FIG. 11E, the tail ends of the fins 156E or other heat exchangers can also be curved (e.g., either in the same direction as the leading ends or in the opposite direction). Further, the tail ends of the fins 156F can be non-curved (e.g., generally aligned with the radial direction) as illustrated in FIG. 11F. In addition, as shown in FIG. 11G, the fins 156G or other heat exchangers can have any other shape or configuration to permit the air entering and passing therethrough to be directed in a desired manner.

FIG. 11H illustrates a perspective view of folded fins 156H configured to be used with any of the embodiments disclosed herein. As discussed, such fins or other heat exchangers can be placed in thermal communication with one or more thermoelectric devices or substrates. A particular assembly can include one, two or more sets of such fins 156H, as desired or required. As discussed, a unitary structure of such heat exchangers can be placed on the top or the bottom of one, two or more heat exchanger modules.

FIGS. 11I and 11J illustrate top and side view, respectively, of another embodiment of folded heat exchangers 156I (e.g., fins). As shown, the fins 156I can include a curved or fluted shape. For example, as discussed, such a configuration can facilitate the entry of air or other fluid therethrough. It will be appreciated that heat exchangers can include one or more other shapes, designs or configurations, as desired or required.

FIG. 12A illustrates another arrangement for biasing flow between the first and second heat exchanger 154, 156. In this embodiment, the motor-impeller assembly 130 comprises a horizontal splitter plate 138 that divides the blades of the impeller 130 into an upper portion 132 a with a height L1 and a lower portion 132 b with a height L2, where L2>L1. By increasing the relative depth or other dimension of either the upper portion 132 a or lower portion 132 b, air can be biased to either the first or second heat exchanger 154, 156, as desired or required by a particular application or use. As compared to the embodiment of FIG. 10, this embodiment advantageously can maintain the generally flat profile of the top surface of the system (i.e., the top wall 302 of FIG. 10 can include a step).

FIG. 12B illustrates a top view of an embodiment of a motor-impeller assembly 130 comprising the horizontal splitter plate 138 illustrated in FIG. 12A. A plurality of spokes 136 extending from the motor rotor 134 to the splitter plate 138/blade 132 a, 132 b assembly may permit fluid drawn in through the intake or inlet 122 (FIG. 1D) to flow to the lower portion 132 b of the blades. Those skilled in the art will understand that other means for providing fluid to the lower portion 132 b of the blades can be used in other embodiments, either in lieu of or in addition to the devices and methods specifically disclosed herein. For example, one or more fluid intakes in the bottom wall 114 (FIG. 1D) can be provided.

FIG. 13A illustrates a modified embodiment of the arrangement of FIG. 12. In this embodiment, the splitter plate 138 can be angled upwardly or downwardly at an angle θ from the radial direction in order to provide a smooth transition as the air is turned towards either the first or second heat exchangers. This can reduce and/or eliminate turbulence caused as the air contacts the splitter plate 138. FIG. 13B is a detailed view of the region around the splitter plate 138 in which the relative fluid flow is generally indicated by arrows. In some embodiments, the splitter plate 138 can also include a curved or otherwise shaped profile to further reduce turbulence as desired or required by a particular application or use.

FIGS. 14A and 14B illustrate an embodiment of the motor-impeller assembly 130 comprising a top ring 139 in a perspective view and in a side cross-sectional view, respectively. In some embodiments, the top ring 139 reduces airflow through the upper heat exchanger that is in fluid communication with the upper chamber 118, as shown in FIG. 14C, which is a cross-sectional view of a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model of a motor motor-impeller assembly 130 comprising a top ring 139. It is believed that turbulence from the top ring 139 may be responsible for the reduced airflow through the upper heat exchanger, which results in an unbalanced airflow between the first and second heat exchangers.

Accordingly, some embodiments of the motor-impeller assembly 130 do not comprise a top ring, an embodiment of which is illustrated in FIG. 15 in a side cross sectional view. Some embodiments of the motor-impeller assembly 130 provide improved airflow through the upper heat exchanger compared with similar motor-impeller assemblies comprising a top ring, thereby resulting in a more balanced airflow between the first and second heat exchangers.

FIG. 16 illustrates a side view of another embodiment of a motor-impeller assembly 130 that permits control over the relative airflow through the first and second heat exchangers. As shown, the motor-impeller assembly 130 can comprise a vertical splitter plate 138 that generally divides the blades into an upper portion 132 a and a lower portion 132 b, similar to the embodiments illustrated in FIGS. 12A, 13A, and 13B. In the illustrated embodiment, the relative airflow is modified by varying the number of upper portions 132 a and/or lower portions 132 b of the blades. For example, the illustrated embodiment comprises 50 upper blade portions 132 a, 80 lower blade portions 132 b. Those skilled in the art will understand that other embodiments comprise a different number of upper blade portions 132 a and lower blade portions 132 b, as desired or required. Further, the number of upper blade portions 132 a can be greater than the number of lower blade portions 132 b. Factors affecting the number of upper blade portions 132 a and lower blade portions 132 b in a particular application may include, but are not limited to, the specific geometry (e.g., shape, size, etc.) of the motor-impeller assembly 130 and overall device, the characteristics of the heat exchangers and/or the like. In some embodiments, such factors are determined by modeling, for example, by CFD, by using one or more empirical methods and/or the like.

As discussed herein, some embodiments are useful in providing conditioned air to vehicle seats, beds, furnishings, wheelchairs, other stationary or mobile seating assemblies or other devices and/or the like, but are not limited to such uses. The method and apparatus is useful anywhere a localized flow of conditioned air is desired. In some arrangements, such fluid transfer systems and devices adapted to selectively thermally condition air or other fluids can be directed toward one or more users either directly (e.g., spot heating or cooling) or through a fluid distribution system of a seat assembly or other device. FIG. 17 illustrates one embodiment in which heat exchange systems 100, as described herein, are used in combination with a ventilated vehicle seat 10. Such systems 100 can be controlled separately through dedicated controllers 12 or through a main control unit (not shown).

Embodiments of the systems, devices, and methods described herein are not limited to conditioning air and/or other gases or fluids. Some gases, for example helium, have greater thermal conductivity than air and are desirable in certain applications, while other gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and/or argon are desirable in other applications. A variety of gases and gas mixtures can be used depending on the particular application.

Some embodiments are useful in heating or cooling other fluids, for example, liquids and/or supercritical fluids through the use of appropriate seals, insulators, and/or other components known in the art, thereby preventing such fluids from adversely affecting the performance of electrical contacts, the thermoelectric device and/or any other electrical and/or mechanical components. Thus, liquids such as water and antifreeze are compatible with embodiments of the method and apparatus described herein, as are liquid metals (e.g., liquid sodium), slurries of fluids and solids, other Newtonian or non-Newtonian fluids and/or the like.

Because the temperature change available from a thermoelectric system can be significant, the heat exchanger systems described herein and variations thereof can be applicable to a wide variety of uses. The method and apparatus described herein are generally applicable to any situation where there is a desire to transfer (e.g., pump) a thermally conditioned fluid. Such applications include constant temperature devices, for example, devices using a reference temperature as in a thermocouple assembly. Another exemplary application is as a component in a constant temperature bath, for example, for laboratory and/or industrial applications. The method and apparatus described herein are useful in applications with low flow rates and/or small temperature changes, as well as applications with large flow rates and/or substantial temperature differences.

By placing a temperature sensor at a predetermined location, whether on the heat exchanger, upstream or downstream of the heat exchanger and/or elsewhere, and electronically controlling the impeller rotation, a controlled stream of thermally conditioned fluid can be provided to maintain the temperature at a predetermined temperature, or to provide predetermined thermal conditions. Thus, some embodiments are particularly useful where localized thermal control is desired, for example, in vehicle seats, beds, waterbeds, aquariums, water coolers, cooling of beverages and the like.

In certain embodiments, the thermoelectric device can comprise one or more sensors. In some embodiments, such sensors, which can be disposed within the thermoelectric device or outside the thermoelectric device, can be configured to communicate with one or more of the control devices (not shown) such that the temperature can be used as part of a control routine and/or as part of a fail-safe mechanism. In other embodiments, the temperature sensor can be positioned at other positions within the blower/thermoelectric device assembly and/or upstream and/or downstream of the assembly.

Furthermore, some embodiments find particular application in situations where a fluid with different temperatures at different times is desired. In some embodiments, the device is operated as a fan, and the thermoelectric aspect is activated as desired. Thus, some embodiments provide warmer, cooler, and/or ambient temperature fluid.

In another embodiment illustrated in cross section in FIG. 18A and in perspective in FIG. 18B, the device 1800 does not comprise a TED, heat exchanger, heater, or other temperature or thermal modifying unit. Instead, the device or system can be configured as a radial outlet blower 1800 comprising a housing 1810, an intake 1822, an outlet 1824 and a motor-impeller assembly 1830, similar to the corresponding components in the device 100. In the illustrated embodiment, the direction of the airflow out of the outlet 1824 is generally coaxial with an axis of symmetry of the device 1800. Such a configuration has advantages in applications in which ventilation is distributed over a large surface, for example, for a seat, a cushion, or a bed, because air distribution channels 1892 can be fluidly connected around the perimeter of the outlet 1824, as illustrated in FIGS. 18C and 18D in a top view and a side view of an embodiment of a radial outlet blower 1800 mounted in a seat cushion 1890. Because the airflow is spread out at the blower outlet, less pressure is required compared with other blower assemblies discussed herein.

In a blower 1900 in which the airflow out of an outlet 1924 is turned (e.g., by 90 degrees or so) using a snout, for example as illustrated in FIG. 19A, one or more distribution channels of a seating assembly, bed or other device are coupled through the snout, resulting in a more complicated fluid connection system. Such a system may also exhibit greater back pressure, for example, as illustrated in FIGS. 19B and 19C in a top view and a side view of a blower 1900 mounted in a seat cushion 1990 and associated distribution channels 1902.

Some embodiments of the radial outlet blower 1800 also exhibit reduced noise compared with other types of blowers. For example, a blower 1900 illustrated in FIG. 19A comprises a “cutoff zone” 1980 at the cutoff of the scroll. In some arrangements, at such a cutoff zone, a portion of the air exits the outlet 1924 and another portion continues to circulate within the housing of the blower 1900, which can create noise depending on the configuration of the scroll, the impeller and the cutoff. Because the radial outlet blower 1800 illustrated in FIG. 18A does not comprise a cutoff, the device 1800 does not generate any cutoff noise, resulting in a quieter device. Moreover, noise in a blower is also associated with non-uniformities in flow, pressure, velocity and/or one or more other flow characteristics or properties, which result in pressure gradients around the circumference of the housing. The symmetry of the radial outlet blower 1800 can be configured to reduce such non-uniformities, thereby reducing noise at a similar flow rate and backpressure.

Some embodiments of radial outlet blowers 1800 do not generate as high a back pressure at a similar airflow as a blower comprising a scroll, however, and consequently, are not suitable for certain applications in which a relatively higher back pressure is desired.

FIG. 20 illustrates a side cross sectional view of an embodiment of a seating system 2000 comprising radial outlet blowers 1800 configured to ventilate a seating surface 2010 and a back 2020. The illustrated embodiment comprises optional heating mats 2030 or other heating elements disposed below seat trim 2040 on both the seat surface 2010 and back 2020.

In any of the embodiments disclosed herein, the integrated blower-TED device can be configured to direct thermally-conditioned air or other fluid directly to one or more users. For example, such air can be delivered to a user's neck, shoulders, legs and/or other anatomical area using a duct or other conduit (e.g., internal channels of a seating assembly, bed, etc.). In some arrangements, such ducts or conduits are positioned outside of a seating assembly (e.g., routed along a side of a seat, bed, etc.).

In other embodiments, as illustrated in FIG. 20, one or more main outlets of a combined blower-TED device can be configured to be in fluid communication with corresponding channels, inlets or other conduits formed within a cushion, mattress (e.g., core portion, topper portion, etc.) or any other member or component of a seating assembly (e.g., vehicle seat, bed, etc.). As discussed, this can eliminate the need for separate conduits or interconnecting duct members, which may be particularly advantageous in embodiments where space is generally relatively limited.

Although several preferred embodiments and certain features are described herein, it will be understood that various omissions, substitutions, combinations, and changes one or more of the details of the system, apparatus, and/or method, may be made by those skilled in the art without departing from the present disclosure. Also, one or more various components of one figure and/or embodiment may be used in different combinations with components of other figures and/or embodiments to produce specific combinations not illustrated and/or described in any particular figure or embodiment. Consequently, the scope of the disclosure is not limited by the foregoing discussion, which is intended to illustrate.

Patentzitate
Zitiertes PatentEingetragen Veröffentlichungsdatum Antragsteller Titel
US6580025 *3. Aug. 200117. Juni 2003The Boeing CompanyApparatus and methods for thermoelectric heating and cooling
Referenziert von
Zitiert von PatentEingetragen Veröffentlichungsdatum Antragsteller Titel
US7929302 *14. Mai 200919. Apr. 2011Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd.Cooling device
Klassifizierungen
US-Klassifikation297/180.15, 165/104.31
Internationale KlassifikationF28D15/00, A47C31/00
UnternehmensklassifikationB60N2/5635, B60N2/5692, F25B21/02, B60N2/5685
Europäische KlassifikationB60N2/56C4F, B60N2/56E2, B60N2/56E4
Juristische Ereignisse
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28. Jan. 2013ASAssignment
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Owner name: AMERIGON INCORPORATED, MICHIGAN
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