Icing Mitigation via High-pressure Membrane Dehumidification in an Aircraft Thermal Management System

Danielle D. Hollon, Wright State University


Icing, or the formation of ice from water via freezing or water vapor via desublimation, is a phenomenon that commonly occurs within air cycle-based refrigeration systems and requires thermal control that limits system performance. In aircraft applications icing frequently occurs in the heat exchangers and turbine(s) that are part of the air cycle machine, the refrigeration unit of the environmental control system. Traditionally, water vapor is removed from an air cycle machine via condensing in a heat exchanger and subsequent high-pressure water separation. This approach is not capable of removing all of the vapor present at low altitude conditions, corresponding to a high risk of icing. To mitigate icing under these conditions, a membrane dehumidifier is considered to separate the water vapor that remains after condensing and liquid water separation. Three distinct investigations are conducted as part of this work. The first is aimed at modeling approaches for desublimation frosting, or frost growth on sufficiently cold flat surfaces. This results in a novel, analytical, and non-restrictive solution well-suited for representing frost growth and densification in moist air heat exchangers. The second investigation concerns membrane dehumidification and module design. A custom component model is developed and verified under aircraft conditions, then the Pareto frontier of volumetrically efficient membrane modules is characterized via a multi-objective optimization study. The final investigation evaluates three two-wheel air cycle subsystem architectures with differing dehumidification approaches: (1) condenser-based, (2) membrane dehumidifier-based, and (3) combined. Steady-state simulations are run for each of these over a range of flow rates and altitudes. The results demonstrate that incorporating a membrane dehumidifier reduces the turbine inlet saturation temperature, which mitigates icing in the turbine and reduces the required bypass flow, thus increasing the cooling capacity.