power generation and storage
JPL researchers replaced the metal in traditional heat exchangers with graphite and used a mini-channel design to further increase thermal performance.
High-Performance, Lightweight, Easy-to-Fabricate Heat Exchanger
Researchers at JPL have developed, built, and tested an innovative heat exchanger that offers reduced thermal expansion, increased structural strength, low pressure drop, and improved thermal performance while lowering the weight associated with typical heat exchangers. This innovation would benefit the commercial thermoelectric generator, aircraft, and industrial processing (i.e., glass, steel, petrochemical, cement, aluminum) industries by improving energy management/efficiency, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and increasing system durability due to the reduced stress from thermal expansion. <b>The Problem</b> Thermoelectric generator systems require high-performance hot-side and cold-side heat exchangers to provide the temperature differential needed to transfer thermal energy while withstanding temperatures up to 650 &#176;C. Because the hot-side heat exchangers must have a high heat flux, they are often made of metals such as stainless steel or Inconel<sup>&#174;</sup> alloys. Although these materials can operate at high temperatures, resist corrosion, and are chemically stable, they also have several drawbacks: (1) Their lower thermal conductivity negatively affects their thermal performance. (2) Their higher thermal expansion leads to stresses that compromise system structural integrity. (3) Their high mass/volume reduces the power density of generator systems into which they are integrated. As a result, they are difficult to integrate into viable energy recovery systems. They also make the systems unreliable, non-durable, and susceptible to failures caused by thermal-structural expansion. <b>The Solution</b> JPL researchers chose to replace the metal in traditional heat exchangers with graphite, which offers an improved conductivity-to-density ratio in thermal applications as well as a low coefficient of thermal expansion. In addition, they used a mini-channel design to further increase thermal performance. Combining more advanced materials with the innovative thermal design has yielded significant improvements in performance. For example, a 200-cm<sup>3</sup>, 128-g version of JPL's exchanger successfully transported 1,100 W from exhaust at nearly 550 &#176;C with approximately 20 W/cm<sup>2</sup> thermal flux and a pressure drop of only 0.066 psi. JPL's technology combines lightweight, high-strength graphite material with a mini-channel design that offers high thermal performance. Further development and testing are underway. <em>Inconel is a registered trademark of Special Materials Corporation.</em>
materials and coatings
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Conductive Carbon Fiber Polymer Composite
The new composite developed by NASA incorporates PGS and CNTs to enhance its thermal conductivity while preserving the mechanical properties of the underlying carbon fiber polymer composite. NASA has also improved the composite manufacturing process to ensure better thermal conductivity not only on the surface, but also through the thickness of the material. This was achieved by adding perforations that enable the additives to spread through the composite. The process for developing this innovative, highly thermally conductive hybrid carbon fiber polymer composite involves several steps. Firstly, a CNT-doped polymer resin is prepared to improve the matrix's thermal conductivity, which is then infused into a carbon fiber fabric. Secondly, PGS is treated to enhance its mechanical interface with the composite. Thirdly, perforation is done on the pyrolytic graphite sheet to improve the thermal conductivity through the thickness of the material by allowing CNT-doped resin to flow and better interlaminar mechanical strength. Finally, the layup of PGS and CNT-CF polymer is optimized. Initial testing of the composite has shown significant increases in thermal conductivity compared to typical carbon fiber composites, with a more than tenfold increase. The composite also has higher thermal conductivity than aluminum alloys, with more than twice the thermal conductivity of the Aluminum 6061 typically used in the aerospace industry. For this new material, NASA has completed a proof-of-concept demonstration and work continues to use the material in a heat exchanger system and further characterize the properties including longevity and radiation impact analysis.
Cladding and Freeform Deposition for Coolant Channel Closeout
LWDC technology enables an improved channel wall nozzle with an outer liner that is fused to the inner liner to contain the coolant. It is an additive manufacturing technology that builds upon large-scale cladding techniques that have been used for many years in the oil and gas industry and in the repair industry for aerospace components. LWDC leverages wire freeform laser deposition to create features in place and to seal the coolant channels. It enables bimetallic components such as an internal copper liner with a superalloy jacket. LWDC begins when a fabricated liner made from one material, Material #1, is cladded with an interim Material #2 that sets up the base structure for channel slotting. A robotic and wire-based fused additive welding system creates a freeform shell on the outside of the liner. Building up from the base, the rotating weld head spools a bead of wire, closing out the coolant channels as the laser traverses circumferentially around the slotted liner. This creates a joint at the interface of the two materials that is reliable and repeatable. The LWDC wire and laser process is continued for each layer until the slotted liner is fully closed out without the need for any filler internal to the coolant channels. The micrograph on the left shows the quality of the bond at the interface of the channel edge and the closeout layer; on the right is a copper channel closed out with stainless.
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