Heat exchangers are a must in many different industries, but few people think of advancing the technology along in the near future. After all, it’s providing exactly what is necessary to those who need it right now, so why would innovation even begin to occur? Sometimes, though, one sector can push another, and in the case of heat exchangers, space exploration is actually pushing the envelope right now.
Heat exchangers are designed to help the cooling process in many different situations. It’s as true in space as it is on Earth – equipment must be cooled. Unfortunately, though, gravity isn’t available to help with that. As a result, a very different heat exchanger technology must be used in space.
One theory that’s being tested by New Mexico State University students is a heat exchanger that uses a wavy channel. The cells look a bit like the punctuation mark tilde. Coolant flows between the lines to keep the equipment at operating temperature. The reason it flows in a wavy channel is that as liquid coolant moves up the wave, heat energy is stripped off the sides and moved to the liquid. As it moves down, it picks up more energy and heat.
Will it work? It’s hard to tell right now whether this is the right heat exchanger solution for the next generation, but it’s fascinating to watch the research unfold and become viable.