Can phase change materials (PCM) be a valuable part of a thermal management solution? These ten facts can help you answer that question and determine what PCM might be right for you.

10 facts about Phase Change Materials:

PCMs can be explained to anyone!

Really, they can! Phase change materials are substances that absorb and release thermal energy (heat) during the process of melting and freezing. They are called “phase change” materials because they go from a solid to a liquid state during the thermal cycling process.

Want a real-world example of the benefit of managing thermal energy? You’ve probably seen the cool touch fabrics that are available for bedding and clothing. When you touch these materials, the heat from your hand activates the PCM and provides a cool sensation. 

PCMs can be made of 3 different materials.

PCMs fall into three main categories depending on their base material: water-based, salt hydrates, and organic material based.  The different materials provide different advantages and usability. 

PCMs can be encapsulated or unencapsulated.

PCMs are generally available in three forms: unencapsulated raw PCM, microencapsulated PCM and macroencapsulated PCM. The difference between the two encapsulated options is the size of the particle. Inorganic and water-based PCMs cannot be encapsulated.

Encapsulation provides strength to a PCM.
Encapsulation of a PCM adds an outer shell to the PCM core to prevent leakage, degradation and contamination. For a good visual, we often describe it as the candy shell around the chocolate center of an M&M!

Microencapsulated Phase Change Materials come in 3 forms:

PCMs are offered as dry powder, wet cake, and slurry. This allows for multiple uses in a variety of different end products since each form as its own advantages for application or incorporation into or onto other materials.

The uses for PCMs are endless!

Building materials, clothing, mattresses, pillows, and electronics are just a few examples of where PCMs are used. We are always working on projects for new and creative uses of PCMs in all kinds of industries.

The benefits of PCMs are endless as well!

PCMs provide many advantages when incorporated into products. They include energy savings, a better night’s sleep, cooling and heating relief in remote locations without access to electricity, and better performing electronics.

Latent heat is crucial for thermal management

There are two kinds of heat energy: sensible and latent. Most traditional heating systems use sensible heat to alter the temperature of a substance. But PCMs use both sensible and latent heat for thermal storage (rather than just temperature change). 

The effects of PCMs can last a long time.

During a Thermal Cycle Test, a PCM is frozen and melted multiple times to test its durability. This helps us determine how long the effects of PCMs will work. If a PCM is going into a foam mattress, the expectation is that the cooling effect will last for many years. This testing validates that it will.

PCMs activate at different temperatures.

PCMs are available with a variety of different melt points.  Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) is a thermoanalytical technique used to determine the peak melting points and latent heat values of PCMs. This data is very important when deciding how to incorporate PCMs into products.  Cool touch fabrics need to active at human body temperature, or around 37c. Cooling an electronic product may need to active at a much higher temperature, such as 58c or more.