Back in 2019, we were excited to cover a story about GE Research embarking on a project to develop a high temperature and super-compact heat exchanger using additive manufacturing. The project, undertaken in cooperation with ORNL and the University of Maryland, aimed to unlock cleaner and more efficient power generation. Fast forward to today, and GE Research has revealed the significant progress it has made on the heat exchanger project.
The $3.1 million project—part of the ARPA-E’s High Intensity Thermal Exchange through Materials and Manufacturing Processes program (HITEMMP)—has taken a significant step forward with the development and testing of a subscale 3D printed heat exchanger at temperatures reaching up to 900°C. The prototype heat exchanger’s performance has exceeded existing devices by more than 200°C! In terms of pressure, the 3D printed device has reportedly achieved close to half the 250 bar (3626 psi) target.
The 3D printed device bears a unique design characterized by thin-walled unit cells, which—as GE Research points out—kind of resemble grapes. This structure was enabled by additive manufacturing. “The design freedom afforded by 3D printing processes and design tools is allowing us to more rapidly develop, build and test new heat exchanger designs that were previously not possible,” explained Lana Osusky, the lead engineer at GE Research who is heading the heat exchanger team. “We may not want to eat these grapes, but we still tasted victory when we completed this key milestone.”
GE Research and its partners will take this achievement in stride, further developing and refining the 3D printed heat exchange structure. In fact, the group says it is on track to test its final prototype at full temperature (900°C) and full pressure (250 bar) by Q1 2022, when the project is slated to wrap up. If all goes to plan, the innovative new heat exchanger design will eventually usher in cleaner, more efficient power generation which can be used at both existing and new power plants as well as for jet engine systems.