Reducing energy waste is important for maximizing efficiency of power stations. Ways that engineers make generators more efficient includes turning off idle appliances; using high and low energy modes; insulation; and capturing waste energy. Energy can be lost through the need to keep certain components cool.
Power plants need to be kept cool for different reasons. These include reason of safety, to divert energy away from electrical components which might become too hot and cause a fire risk; and to convert more heat into usable power, to boost efficiency. There are two factors that influence how effective a heat exchanger can carry out this task — the geometry and the material of construction.
Advances have been made with the metal used to manufacture heat exchangers, but for some time engineers have been limited by the shape. 3D printing has provided an opportunity to create geometric shapes that enable energy conversion to be carried out effectively.
The downside is that 3D printing metal is too expensive and the use of conventional plastic is unsuitable due to the lack of conductive properties. A research group has come up with a different solution: using plastic polymers, blended with a filler material like graphene or ceramic using a 3D printing method called fused deposition modelling.
To do this, polymer filaments are wound into a thick spool and passed into a hot nozzle. Following heating, the material is deposited one layer at a time. Each layer is composed of many small individual parallel filaments, which leads to a fine layered pattern.
Initial trials with the material have been successful, and further experiments are underway. The research was led by Natalie Rudolph, based at Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.