Wax motor

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A wax motor is a linear actuator device that converts thermal energy into mechanical energy by exploiting the phase-change behaviour of waxes. [1] During melting, wax typically expands in volume by 5% to 20% ( Freund et al. 1982 ).

Linear actuator actuator that creates motion in a straight line

A linear actuator is an actuator that creates motion in a straight line, in contrast to the circular motion of a conventional electric motor. Linear actuators are used in machine tools and industrial machinery, in computer peripherals such as disk drives and printers, in valves and dampers, and in many other places where linear motion is required. Hydraulic or pneumatic cylinders inherently produce linear motion. Many other mechanisms are used to generate linear motion from a rotating motor.

Thermal energy internal energy present in a system due to its temperature; is not a state function

Thermal energy can refer to several distinct thermodynamic quantities, such as the internal energy of a system; heat or sensible heat, which are defined as types of energy transfer ; or for the characteristic energy of a degree of freedom in a thermal system , where is temperature and is the Boltzmann constant.

Mechanical energy potential and kinetic energy associated with the position and movement of a physical object

In physical sciences, mechanical energy is the sum of potential energy and kinetic energy. It is the energy associated with the motion and position of an object. The principle of conservation of mechanical energy states that in an isolated system that is only subject to conservative forces, the mechanical energy is constant. If an object moves in the opposite direction of a conservative net force, the potential energy will increase; and if the speed of the object changes, the kinetic energy of the object also changes. In all real systems, however, nonconservative forces, such as frictional forces, will be present, but if they are of negligible magnitude, the mechanical energy changes little and its conservation is a useful approximation. In elastic collisions, the mechanical energy is conserved, but in inelastic collisions some mechanical energy is converted into thermal energy. The equivalence between lost mechanical energy (dissipation) and an increase in temperature was discovered by James Prescott Joule.


A wide range of waxes can be used in wax motors, ranging from highly refined hydrocarbons to waxes extracted from vegetable matter. Specific examples include paraffin waxes in the straight-chain n-alkanes series. These melt and solidify over a well-defined and narrow temperature range.

Paraffin wax Used to make candle etc

Paraffin wax is a soft colorless solid, derived from petroleum, coal or shale oil, that consists of a mixture of hydrocarbon molecules containing between twenty and forty carbon atoms. It is solid at room temperature and begins to melt above approximately 37 °C (99 °F), its boiling point is >370 °C (698 °F). Common applications for paraffin wax include lubrication, electrical insulation, and candles; dyed paraffin wax can be made into crayons. It is distinct from kerosene and other petroleum products that are sometimes called paraffin.


The principal components of a wax motor are:

Wax class of chemical compounds that are plastic (malleable) near ambient temperatures.

Waxes are a diverse class of organic compounds that are lipophilic, malleable solids near ambient temperatures. They include higher alkanes and lipids, typically with melting points above about 40 °C (104 °F), melting to give low viscosity liquids. Waxes are insoluble in water but soluble in organic, nonpolar solvents. Natural waxes of different types are produced by plants and animals and occur in petroleum.

Thermistor type of resistor whose resistance varies with temperature

A thermistor is a type of resistor whose resistance is dependent on temperature, more so than in standard resistors. The word is a portmanteau of thermal and resistor. Thermistors are widely used as inrush current limiters, temperature sensors, self-resetting overcurrent protectors, and self-regulating heating elements.

Heat sink hardware component

A heat sink is a passive heat exchanger that transfers the heat generated by an electronic or a mechanical device to a fluid medium, often air or a liquid coolant, where it is dissipated away from the device, thereby allowing regulation of the device's temperature at optimal levels. In computers, heat sinks are used to cool CPUs, GPUs, and some chipsets and RAM modules. Heat sinks are used with high-power semiconductor devices such as power transistors and optoelectronics such as lasers and light emitting diodes (LEDs), where the heat dissipation ability of the component itself is insufficient to moderate its temperature.

When the heat source is energized, the wax block is heated and it expands, driving the plunger outwards by volume displacement. When the heat source is removed, the wax block contracts as it cools and the wax solidifies. For the plunger to withdraw, a biasing force is usually required to overcome the mechanical resistance of seals that contain the liquid wax. The biasing force is typically 20% to 30% of the operating force and often provided by a mechanical spring or gravity-fed dead weight applied externally into the wax motor ( Duerig 1990 , p. 214).

Thermal expansion The tendency of matter to change volume in response to a change in temperature

Thermalexpansion is the tendency of matter to change its shape, area, and volume in response to a change in temperature.

Depending on the particular application, wax motors potentially have advantages over magnetic solenoids:


Aerospace Controls

Wax motors are used heavily in the aerospace industry where they are utilized to control fuel, hydraulic, and other oils critical to safe flight today in modern airplanes.[ dubious ]

Mixing Valves - HVAC

Wax motors are contained inside "self actuating" thermostatic mixing valves, where the wax motor senses thermal change and responds accordingly to yield a desired mixed fluid temperature.

Laundry washing machines

Some front load washing machines use wax motors to engage the door lock assembly. When a cycle is started, a wax motor is actuated pushing a pin outward and locking the door. This design has cost, reliability and safety advantages. In moist conditions a wax motor costs less for equivalent reliability than an electromagnetic solenoid or motor latch. It has a predictable passive release delay. If power is lost the door remains briefly locked, designed to be longer than the high speed spin cycle coast-down time, then reliably unlocks as the wax cools.

Hot water heating systems

Wax motors are also commonly used to drive zone valves in hydronic (hot water) heating systems.


They are used in many dishwashers to release the detergent dispenser door latch. The wax motor acts like a solenoid when activated by the dishwasher's timer or control, and the piston operates the mechanism which then releases the catch for the dispenser door. They are also used to control the exhaust vent for the drying cycle.

Greenhouse vents

Wax motors are widely used to operate the temperature regulating vents of greenhouses.

In this application, as the ambient temperature within the greenhouse increases, the wax melts, activating the plunger and opening the vents. When the greenhouse temperature has cooled sufficiently, the wax cools and solidifies, allowing the vents to close again. [note 1]

Paraffin microactuator

A paraffin microactuator is a type of wax motor, often fabricated by Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology or sometimes precision mechanics. [2]

See also


  1. 'Solar Powered Vent Control Application Guide' http://www.charleysgreenhouse.com/index.cfm?page=_vent_application_tips Accessdate=13 July 2013

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Passive solar building design

In passive solar building design, windows, walls, and floors are made to collect, store, reflect, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer. This is called passive solar design because, unlike active solar heating systems, it does not involve the use of mechanical and electrical devices.

Heat pump Pumps heat backward - a device that transfers thermal energy in the opposite direction of spontaneous heat transfer

A heat pump is a device that transfers heat energy from a source of heat to what is called a heat sink. Heat pumps move thermal energy in the opposite direction of spontaneous heat transfer, by absorbing heat from a cold space and releasing it to a warmer one. A heat pump uses external power to accomplish the work of transferring energy from the heat source to the heat sink. The most common design of a heat pump involves four main components – a condenser, an expansion valve, an evaporator and a compressor. The heat transfer medium circulated through these components is called refrigerant.

Thermostat component which maintains a setpoint temperature

A thermostat is a component which senses the temperature of a physical system and performs actions so that the system's temperature is maintained near a desired setpoint.

An actuator is a component of a machine that is responsible for moving and controlling a mechanism or system, for example by opening a valve. In simple terms, it is a "mover".

Heat recovery ventilation (HRV), also known as mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR), is an energy recovery ventilation system which works between two sources at different temperatures. Heat recovery is a method which is increasingly used to reduce the heating and cooling demands of buildings. By recovering the residual heat in the exhaust gas, the fresh air introduced into the air conditioning system is pre-heated (pre-cooled), and the fresh air enthalpy is increased (reduced) before the fresh air enters the room or the air cooler of the air conditioning unit performs heat and moisture treatment. A typical heat recovery system in buildings consists of a core unit, channels for fresh air and exhaust air, and blower fans. Building exhaust air is used as either a heat source or heat sink depending on the climate conditions, time of year and requirements of the building. Heat recovery systems typically recover about 60–95% of the heat in exhaust air and have significantly improved the energy efficiency of buildings.

Phase-change material substance with high latent heat of melting or solidifying

A phase change material (PCM) is a substance with a high heat of fusion which, melting and solidifying at a certain temperature, is capable of storing and releasing large amounts of energy. Heat is absorbed or released when the material changes from solid to liquid and vice versa; thus, PCMs are classified as latent heat storage (LHS) units.

Damper (flow) mobile plate or valve allowing to regulate the flow of air inside a chimney or other air handling equipment

A damper is a valve or plate that stops or regulates the flow of air inside a duct, chimney, VAV box, air handler, or other air-handling equipment. A damper may be used to cut off central air conditioning to an unused room, or to regulate it for room-by-room temperature and climate control. Its operation can be manual or automatic. Manual dampers are turned by a handle on the outside of a duct. Automatic dampers are used to regulate airflow constantly and are operated by electric or pneumatic motors, in turn controlled by a thermostat or building automation system. Automatic or motorized dampers may also be controlled by a solenoid, and the degree of air-flow calibrated, perhaps according to signals from the thermostat going to the actuator of the damper in order to modulate the flow of air-conditioned air in order to effect climate control.

Solenoid valve

A solenoid valve is an electromechanical device in which the solenoid uses an electric current to generate a magnetic field and thereby operate a mechanism which regulates the opening of fluid flow in a valve.

Trace heating

Electric heat tracing, heat tape or surface heating, is a system used to maintain or raise the temperature of pipes and vessels using heat tracing cables. Trace heating takes the form of an electrical heating element run in physical contact along the length of a pipe. The pipe is usually covered with thermal insulation to retain heat losses from the pipe. Heat generated by the element then maintains the temperature of the pipe. Trace heating may be used to protect pipes from freezing, to maintain a constant flow temperature in hot water systems, or to maintain process temperatures for piping that must transport substances that solidify at ambient temperatures. Electric trace heating cables are an alternative to steam trace heating where steam is unavailable or unwanted.

An autovent is a device for maintaining a greenhouse or conservatory within a range of temperatures. The basic principle is that as greenhouse heats above ambient the air inside becomes lighter, the vent opens when a certain temperature is reached and lets the hot air out - drawing cooler air in from outside.

Hot-melt adhesive solvent-free and at room temperature more or less solid products which are applied to the adhesive surface when hot

Hot melt adhesive (HMA), also known as hot glue, is a form of thermoplastic adhesive that is commonly sold as solid cylindrical sticks of various diameters designed to be applied using a hot glue gun. The gun uses a continuous-duty heating element to melt the plastic glue, which the user pushes through the gun either with a mechanical trigger mechanism on the gun, or with direct finger pressure. The glue squeezed out of the heated nozzle is initially hot enough to burn and even blister skin. The glue is tacky when hot, and solidifies in a few seconds to one minute. Hot melt adhesives can also be applied by dipping or spraying, and are popular with hobbyists and crafters both for affixing and as an inexpensive alternative to resin casting.

Energy recovery

Energy recovery includes any technique or method of minimizing the input of energy to an overall system by the exchange of energy from one sub-system of the overall system with another. The energy can be in any form in either subsystem, but most energy recovery systems exchange thermal energy in either sensible or latent form.

Hydraulic motor hydro pohon

A hydraulic motor is a mechanical actuator that converts hydraulic pressure and flow into torque and angular displacement (rotation). The hydraulic motor is the rotary counterpart of the hydraulic cylinder as a linear actuator. Most broadly, the category of devices called hydraulic motors has sometimes included those that run on hydropower but in today's terminology the name usually refers more specifically to motors that use hydraulic fluid as part of closed hydraulic circuits in modern hydraulic machinery.

Artificial lift refers to the use of artificial means to increase the flow of liquids, such as crude oil or water, from a production well. Generally this is achieved by the use of a mechanical device inside the well or by decreasing the weight of the hydrostatic column by injecting gas into the liquid some distance down the well. A newer method called Continuous Belt Transportation (CBT) uses an oil absorbing belt to extract from marginal and idle wells. Artificial lift is needed in wells when there is insufficient pressure in the reservoir to lift the produced fluids to the surface, but often used in naturally flowing wells to increase the flow rate above what would flow naturally. The produced fluid can be oil, water or a mix of oil and water, typically mixed with some amount of gas.

Wax thermostatic element

The wax thermostatic element was invented in 1934 by Sergius Vernet (1899–1968). Its principal application is in automotive thermostats used in the engine cooling system. The first applications in the plumbing and heating industries were in Sweden (1970) and in Switzerland (1971).

Valve actuator device used for the automation of a valve

A valve actuator is the mechanism for opening and closing a valve. Manually operated valves require someone in attendance to adjust them using a direct or geared mechanism attached to the valve stem. Power-operated actuators, using gas pressure, hydraulic pressure or electricity, allow a valve to be adjusted remotely, or allow rapid operation of large valves. Power-operated valve actuators may be the final elements of an automatic control loop which automatically regulates some flow, level or other process. Actuators may be only to open and close the valve, or may allow intermediate positioning; some valve actuators include switches or other ways to remotely indicate the position of the valve.

A shut down valve is an actuated valve designed to stop the flow of a hazardous fluid upon the detection of a dangerous event. This provides protection against possible harm to people, equipment or the environment. Shutdown valves form part of a Safety Instrumented System. The process of providing automated safety protection upon the detection of a hazardous event is called Functional Safety

Directional Control Valves (DCVs) are one of the most fundamental parts of hydraulic and pneumatic systems. DCVs allow fluid flow into different paths from one or more sources. DCVs will usually consist of a spool inside a cylinder which is mechanically or electrically actuated. The position of the spool restricts or permits flow, thus it controls the fluid flow.


  1. Setright, L. J. K. (1976). "Cooling". In Ian Ward (ed.). Anatomy of the Motor Car. Orbis. pp. 61–62. ISBN   0-85613-230-6.
  2. Ogden, Sam; Klintberg, Lena; Thornell, Greger; Hjort, Klas; Bodén, Roger (30 November 2013). "Review on miniaturized paraffin phase change actuators, valves, and pumps". Microfluidics and Nanofluidics. 17: 53–71. doi:10.1007/s10404-013-1289-3.