The principle limit for achieving higher brightness of laser diode arrays is thermal management. State of the art laser diodes generate heat at fluxes in excess of 1 kW cm−2 on a plane parallel to the light emitting edge. As the laser diode bars are packed closer together, it becomes increasingly difficult to remove large amounts of heat in the diminishing space between neighboring diode bars. Thermal management of these diode arrays using conduction and natural convection is practically impossible, and, therefore, some form of forced convective cooling must be utilized. Cooling large arrays of laser diodes using single-phase convection heat transfer has been investigated for more than two decades by multiple investigators. Unfortunately, either large fluid temperature increases or very high flow velocities must be utilized to reject heat to a single phase fluid, and the practical threshold for single phase convective cooling of laser diodes appears to have been reached. In contrast, liquid-vapor phase change heat transport can occur with a negligible increase in temperature and, due to a high enthalpy of vaporization, at comparatively low mass flow rates. However, there have been no prior investigations at the conditions required for high brightness edge emitting laser diode arrays: >1 kW cm−2 and >10 kW cm−3.

In the current investigation, flow boiling heat transfer at heat fluxes up to 1.1 kW cm−2 was studied in a microchannel heat sink with plurality of very small channels (45 × 200 microns) using R134a as the phase change fluid. The high aspect ratio channels (4.4:1) were manufactured using MEMS fabrication techniques, which yielded a large heat transfer surface area to volume ratio in the vicinity of the laser diode. To characterize the heat transfer performance, a test facility was constructed that enabled testing over a range of fluid saturation temperatures (15°C to 25°C). Due to the very small geometric features, significant heat spreading was observed, necessitating numerical methods to determine the average heat transfer coefficient from test data. This technique is crucial to accurately calculate the heat transfer coefficients for the current investigation, and it is shown that the analytical approach used by many previous investigations requires assumptions that are inadequate for the very small dimensions and heat fluxes observed in the present study.

During the tests, the calculated outlet vapor quality exceeded 0.6 and the base heat flux reached a maximum of 1.1 kW cm−2. The resulting experimental heat transfer coefficients are found to be as large a 58.1 kW m−2 K−1 with an average uncertainty of ±11.1%, which includes uncertainty from all measured and calculated values, required assumptions, and geometric discretization error from meshing.

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