A new type of lightweight, 3D printed heat exchanger with a maze-like design is more compact and efficient than its conventional counterparts, its developers say.

A team led by engineers from the University of Glasgow have developed the system, which exploits the unique properties of microscale surfaces to create a high-performance heat exchanger.

Heat exchangers, devices which transfer heat between fluids without mixing them, have a wide range of practical applications. Heat exchangers which transfer thermal energy between fluids are used in systems including refrigeration, fuel cells and the types of internal combustion engines used in cars and aircrafts.

In a new paper published in Applied Thermal Engineering, the researchers describe how they developed and built the prototype system, which they estimate to be 50% more effective than a market-leading conventional heat exchanger despite being one-tenth of its size.

The system owes its effectiveness to the design of architected surfaces over which liquids flow through the exchanger. The cube-shaped exchanger draws water through a core studded with tiny holes arranged in a gyroid configuration.

Gyroids are part of a group of cellular designs that are constructed using triply periodic minimal surface geometries having non-self-intersecting and highly symmetrical periodic surfaces.

The team chose to use a repeating gyroid architecture for their heat exchanger because the effectiveness of heat exchange is linked to its surface area – the larger the surface area, the more opportunity the fluids have to pass their thermal energy from one to the other. This means that objects with large surface areas can cool or heat fluids faster than those with more limited surface areas.

Their microscale gyroid design, which they manufactured from a simple photopolymer using a sophisticated 3D printer, engineers a large surface area into a compact cube measuring 32.2mm on each side and weighing just eight grams.

By drawing water through this dense maze, the researchers were able to demonstrate temperature changes of between 10 and 20ºC when water flowed through their heat exchanger at a rate of between 100 and 270 millimetres per minute.

Extract from Glasgow University news - read more here

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