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Active Thermal Management for a Miniature Mass Spectrometer
Keywords: Active thermal management, Sensor cooling, Thermoelectric
For many environmental monitoring and screening related applications a field deployable sensor system for measuring levels of gases and toxicants can provide the capability to more effectively identify gas leaks and hazardous substances. One specific application involves leak detection for the natural gas industry. The expansion of natural gas production promises to improve both economic security and environmental outlooks. However, at least 2% of this resource is wasted through leaks of methane, the main component of natural gas, at production sites. For this reason, sensitive field detection of methane leaks can provide a solution to identify and mitigate leaks to improve the safe and efficient extraction of this resource. While laboratory equipment exists that can accurately identify these chemicals, the size and cost of the equipment has limited its use in broader applications. Mass spectrometry (mass spec) is one well established approach to identify and differentiate gases and hazardous chemicals from environmental samples. However, these instruments are laboratory bench-scale tools that are not applicable for portable applications. One challenge in miniaturizing a mass spec system is to achieve the same level of discrimination that is available from the lab instruments. Under the ARPA-E MONITOR program (Methane Observation Networks with Innovative Technology to Obtain Reductions), Duke University, University of Arizona (UofA), and RTI International have collaborated to develop a prototype miniature mass spec system specifically tuned for methane detection and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). As part of this program, RTI has developed an integrated thermoelectric (TE) cooling system for the detector in a miniature mass spectrometer system. The unique, ultralow-noise Charge Trans-impedance Amplifier (CTIA) ion detector developed by UofA and used in the system is only able to achieve low noise detection by cooling to 0°C. One key aspect of the program is to provide the sensitivity for detecting methane and other VOCs by integrating a cooling system into the vacuum chamber where the ion detector is housed. The active cooling system developed for this application includes a small (6.6 x 6.6 x 1.5mm) thermoelectric device that is integrated into the vacuum chamber and mounted directly to the detector’s heat spreader. A copper mounting block with a heat pipe heatsink is used for the heat rejection system, along with an external cooling fan. The development of the integrated cooling system for the detector included an analytical thermal design, ANSYS finite element modeling, bench-scale testing, and system integration and testing. The details of the development, integration, and testing of this active cooling system will be presented.
David Stokes,
RTI International
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

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