Aug 29, 2017 | By Tess

Engineers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have received $2.1 million in funding to continue their development of 3D printed heat exchangers. The project is being supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-e).

The project, which began in 2015, was aimed at creating heat exchangers for power plants using 3D printing technology. Now, following the project’s initial success, the University of Wisconsin team will be able to continue its work for other applications, such as developing 3D printed heated exchangers for refrigerators.

Heat exchangers are devices used to take heat away from a machine’s internal electrical generation machinery, often by transferring it to a fluid. They are critical components in heating, refrigeration, and air conditioning systems, as well as in power plants, sewage plants, natural gas processing facilities, and more.

By using 3D printing to manufacture heat exchangers, the engineers found they were able to create more effective shapes than was previously possible and work with different materials. For the refrigerator heat exchanger, for instance, the team created a part measuring one square foot in size—larger than most existing fridge heat exchangers.

As the team explains, it has been working with FDM/FFF 3D printing technologies to create heat exchangers from polymer filaments embedded with copper particles. These “highly filled” polymers allow the printed part to take on copper’s heat-conducting properties.

Usually, metal is used to manufacture heat exchangers as it conducts heat well. One of the biggest challenges of working with metal, however, is that it can be difficult and expensive to transform into complex shapes using traditional manufacturing methods. The shape of a heat exchanger is very important, the researchers say, as it can help to “facilitate heat transfer.”

By 3D printing specific shapes and complex internal structures for the heat exchangers, the engineers found they could actually produce more effective and cost-efficient parts. The 3D printed geometries and internal projections reportedly help to “increase turbulence” and improve the exchanger’s heat transfer. The improved design could help increase the energy efficiency of refrigerators.

With the $2.1 million in funding, the UW-Madison team will be able to bring on a number of industrial partners to advance its 3D printing project, including Teel Plastics, a Wisconsin-based plastic manufacturer; Cosine Additive, a 3D printer manufacturer from Houston, Texas; and Greenheck Corporation, an air conditioning systems manufacturer from Wasau, Wisconsin.

These partners will participate in the research project by implementing the 3D printed heat exchangers into their industrial facilities. They will also help to “set competitive performance and cost targets for the project and provide insights on how to feasibly scale the production of 3D printed heat exchangers.”

More than just offering an alternative manufacturing method for creating heat exchangers, the UW-Madison research is also helping to push forward additive manufacturing technologies more generally through the development of highly filled polymers.

As the researchers explain, the highly filled polymers could be used for various applications, including printing complex circuit boards in one go, and printing parts which could then be fused into solid metal by burning off the polymer particles.

Nathalie Rudolph, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering

The UW-Madison heat exchanger team is being led by assistant professor of mechanical engineering Natalie Rudolph and Mead Witter Foundation Consolidated Papers Chair Tim Osswald. Professor Greg Nellis is credited as the heat exchanger design lead, while Professor Krishnan Suresh is the design manufacturing lead.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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