The Sandia Cooler

Technology Summary

Sandia researchers have developed a radically new architecture for air-cooled heat exchangers. In conventional “fan-plus-finned-heat-sink” air-cooled heat exchangers, the primary physical limitation to performance (i.e. achieving low thermal resistance) is the boundary layer of motionless air that adheres to and envelops all surfaces of the heat exchanger. Within this boundary layer region of “dead air”, diffusive transport is the dominant mechanism for heat transfer. The resulting thermal bottleneck largely determines the thermal resistance of the heat exchanger.  Another longstanding problem is inevitable fouling of the heat exchanger surface over time by particulate matter and other airborne contaminants. Heat sink fouling is especially important in applications where little or no preventative maintenance is typically practiced.  The third major obstacle concerns inadequate airflow to heat exchanger resulting from restrictions on fan noise. Small and medium-sized fans have relatively poor mechanical efficiency; unproductive expenditure of mechanical work on the surrounding air results in high noise levels.

The “Sandia Cooler” architecture simultaneously eliminates all three of the drawbacks of conventional air-cooled heat exchanger technology. The “Sandia Cooler” provides a several-fold reduction in boundary layer thickness, intrinsic immunity to heat sink fouling, and drastic reductions in noise. It is also expected to be very practical from the standpoint of cost, complexity, ruggedness, etc.


In this new device architecture, heat is efficiently transferred from a stationary base plate to a rotating (counterclockwise) structure that combines the functionality of cooling fins with a centrifugal impeller.  Dead air enveloping the cooling fins is subjected to a powerful centrifugal pumping effect, providing a 10x reduction in boundary layer thickness at a speed of a few thousand rpm.  Additionally, high-speed rotation completely eliminates the problem of heat exchanger fouling.  The "direct drive advantage", in which relative motion between the cooling fins and ambient air is created by rotating the heat exchanger, provides a drastic improvement in aerodynamic efficiency.  This translates to an extremely quiet operation.  The benefits have been quantified on a proof-of-concept prototype.



Jeffrey P. Koplow. (2009, September). "A Fundamentally New Approach to Air-Cooled Heat Exchangers." Prepared by Sandia National Laboratories Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185 and Livermore, California 94550. SAND2009-135192.


Dramatic increase in cooling performance without resorting to exotic methods
Exceptionally quiet operation
Immune to dust fouling
Simple, rugged, and cost-competitive design
Provides increased energy efficiency

Applications and Industries

High performance "gaming" PCs
Home video game boxes
Various other electronic devices
LED Lighting
Large Appliances
Any device comprising one or more forced-air exchangers

Additional Information

Several U.S. Patents Pending

Japan Patent 5,368,560 "Heat Exchanger Device and Method For Heat Removal or Transfer" issued 09/20/2013

Intellectual Property

ID Number
Patent Number
Heat exchanger device and method for heat removal or transfer 8,228,675 07/24/2012
Axial flow heat exchanger devices and methods for heat transfer using axial flow devices 9,261,100 02/16/2016
Heat exchanger device and method for heat removal or transfer 8,988,881 03/24/2015
Heat exchanger device and method for heat removal or transfer 9,207,023 12/08/2015
Technology IDSD#10948Development StagePrototype - Sandia estimates this technology at a TRL 4. The key elements of the device have been integrated and demonstrated to work in a laboratory environmentAvailabilityAvailable - Various license and partnering options are available. Please contact the Intellectual Property department to discuss.Published09/29/2011Last Updated10/27/2016