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Advanced Manufacturing

Developing Additive Manufacturing Techniques for Better Microchannel Heat Exchangers

Company Name: Vacuum Process Engineering, Inc.
Program Office: Advanced Manufacturing
Location: Sacramento, CA
Email: Carl Schalansky, CEO;
Award Amount: $300,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Sandia National Laboratories


Microchannel heat exchangers (MCHEs) provide fuel savings in new and retrofitted power plants, recovery of heat from industrial processes including land-based turbines, and process intensification in chemical industries. Screen printing shims for MCHE applications is an innovative technology that enables high-efficiency heat exchangers to be manufactured at lower cost and with less environmentally hazardous waste.

Domestic photo-chemical machining facilities capable of producing MCHE shim ridge and channel geometries are limited to producing shims with dimensions of approximately 18" by 30", have a large hazardous materials content, and have limited throughput and capacity. These shims are only practical in 3 to 15 megawatt heat exchanger applications, and must be welded into "multicore" MCHEs.

Vacuum Process Engineering's (VPE's) proposed process, when scaled beyond 24" by 48" shims, would enable efficient manufacturing of 50 megawatt MCHEs that constitute a single large core, cost less, and are more efficient. This SBV Pilot will allow the company to use Sandia National Laboratories' capabilities to test and evaluate the company's process.

When scaled, VPE's method is expected to enable printing of shims that yield parts that have three to six times more surface area, 50 percent improved shim printing throughput, and greatly reduced waste streams, and cost of more than 25 percent less to produce.


Vacuum Process Engineering's new shim manufacturing process, when scaled, will enable MCHE cost reductions and design improvements that are not possible using current etching methods. Although the costs of etched shim MCHEs are difficult to generalize, estimates of $60,000 per megawatt are sometimes cited. A screen-print-based MCHE shim production process, with its benefits of larger size and faster delivery, coupled with diffusion bonding in VPE's diffusion bond hot press – the largest in the world – will reduce costs to less than $45,000 per megawatt, and open the door to consideration of heat exchanger designs that had been out of reach.


The new shim manufacturing process will allow VPE to become the most cost-effective manufacturer of large MCHEs, which are key for efficient renewable energy recovery and for new supercritical carbon dioxide, nuclear energy, concentrated solar power, and fossil energy power plants. Our proposed printing process will enable VPE to accelerate MCHE growth, leading to an estimated $20 million in sales by 2019 and hiring 22 new employees. Additional global market needs should support sales of at least $50 million in five years.

New and larger MCHE designs will become possible. Bringing MCHE's to market that are more efficient, cost less and have greater capacity will enable power plants and industrial facilities to save money and energy, across the nation and around the world.

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