Heat exchanger technology is critical in a variety of applications, including power generation and applied energy solutions (solar, biomass, fossil, nuclear, geothermal, etc.), refrigeration, chemical production, and oil and gas processing.
Micro-channel heat exchangers (MCHEs) provide higher performance, more compact size, and enhanced reliability at lower production costs. MCHEs are critical components for leveraging advanced technologies such as the supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) Brayton cycle. These cycles can increase the efficiency of conventional steam-based fossil, solar, and nuclear power plants from approximately 33% to more than 45%.
Designing optimal compact heat exchangers is slow and difficult. To simplify this process, Sandia National Laboratories developed an efficient, flexible, and comprehensive software design tool: Selection, Evaluation, and Rating of Compact Heat Exchangers (SEARCH).
Ensuring that there was a reliable supply of MCHEs was an essential step toward moving the sCO2 Brayton technology to market. Manufacturing capability for industrial MCHEs has lagged behind demand, especially in the U.S. Vacuum Process Engineering, Inc. (VPE), a small American business, was selected as the domestic manufacturing partner that would bring Sandia’s MCHE technology to market. Sandia and VPE entered into an umbrella Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, and Sandia also licensed its SEARCH software suite, which enables the design of efficient MCHEs, to VPE.
At Sandia, Yasmin Dennig, a senior technical business development specialist, suggested separating the complex Brayton cycle technology into its component parts and using a Federal Business Opportunities announcement to find a manufacturing partner.
Matt Carlson, the subject-matter expert on heat exchangers on Sandia’s sCO2 Brayton cycle team, created the SEARCH software, and continues to direct and support technical maturation of the software. Both Carlson and Dennig have been working with VPE to identify where demand for customized MCHEs currently exists. Dan Sanchez, technology partnerships manager at the Department of Energy (DOE), provided key technical advice and expedited the due diligence of the CRADA to meet schedule requirements and an important deadline. Carl Schalansky, president of VPE, thoroughly demonstrated his company’s qualifications and eagerness to partner with the labs. Christy Bell, VPE design engineer, worked closely with Carlson to enhance the SEARCH software to meet customer needs.
By partnering with Sandia, VPE became the first American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)-certified MCHE manufacturer in the U.S. This certification has directly led to a decrease in MCHE prices by over 50%, increased availability to customers, and an increase in manufacturing orders at VPE. VPE is now selling single-core MCHEs to customers worldwide. The partnership has expanded into a larger program co-sponsored by DOE, allowing Sandia to continue working with VPE to make improvements and scale up to larger, multicore MCHEs.
Contact: Jackie Kerby-Moore, (505) 845-8107, [email protected]