The Elements of Innovation Discovered

DOE backs Galvorn heat exchanger tech

Metal Tech News - February 12, 2024

Aims to curb industrial heat's CO2 footprint, which is more than cars and planes combined.

Climate tech company DexMat and Rice University have received $1.5 million in U.S. Department of Energy funding on a project to replace aluminum or copper fins in heat exchangers with a thermal conductivity-enhanced version of DexMat's flagship product, Galvorn – a high-performance, carbon nanomaterial that is stronger than steel, lighter than aluminum, and as conductive as copper.

The carbon dioxide footprint from heavy industry's heat processes is responsible for over 20% of global emissions. Half of those emissions come from combustion to produce large amounts of high-temperature heat for manufacturing products like cement, steel, and petrochemicals, as well as power generation and refrigeration. Cumulatively, this amounts to more CO2 emissions than all the world's cars and planes combined.

"Decarbonizing industry is a complex, multi-dimensional challenge," said DexMat CEO Bryan Hassin. "Most people are unaware of the massive amount of energy used in chemical refining, water treatment, or manufacturing. Improving efficiency of heat exchangers reduces the emissions impact across all these processes, and doing it with sustainable materials doubles the benefit."

Galvorn – the game changer

The Texas-based team at DexMat may have the ultimate solution: Galvorn, made entirely of carbon, can be sourced from a variety of feedstocks from hydrocarbons and renewable fuels to captured carbon.

Built on a technology originally developed in the laboratory of Rice University Professor Matteo Pasquali, Galvorn's creation by carbon-capture-and-storage processes and implementation in industry would double its performance as a decarbonization multiplier. As a cousin to graphene with similar properties, it can be formed into cables, tapes, weaves, composites, and 3D structures.

"Galvorn products can eventually displace up to three gigatons of carbon emissions from hard-to-abate industrial sectors every year – and not with a product that's lacking in comparison to traditional materials, but with a product that is actually far superior on almost every front," said DexMat CEO Bryan Hassin.

The DOE-funded High Thermal Conductivity Carbon Nanotube Fibers for Improved Heat Exchange project will be jointly run between Rice University and DexMat. The team aims to revolutionize industrial heat exchange technology with substantial energy efficiency gains at competitive costs by integrating this superior-performance green tech.

The DOE's Industrial Efficiency and Decarbonization Office funding is earmarked for projects like this designed to reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions. Recognizing its high impact potential, the DOE included the DexMat-Rice project as one of 49 recipients in its recent $171 million funding round, resourced by President Biden's Investing in America Agenda. Of the $1.5 million, 80% will go to Rice and 20% to DexMat for a 24-month project period.

"We're thrilled that the DOE recognizes the opportunity we have ahead of us, and we look forward to realizing it with our partners at Rice," said Hassin.

Bringing heat exchange into the next century

Engineers have used heat exchangers for more than a century, with new materials and design approaches enabling even greater efficiency. For the DexMat-Rice project, the team will focus primarily on upgrading the next generation of plate-fin heat exchangers.

Aptly named, these heat exchangers use finned chambers to transfer heat between fluids or gases, the plate fins themselves usually being highly conductive, lightweight materials – predominantly aluminum or copper. However, both metals possess ungainly carbon footprints. Galvorn is the project's alternative: a strong, lightweight, high-performing, green material that in its next incarnation, will replace the metal fins.

"The goal of this project is to further enhance the thermal conductivity of carbon nanotube fibers and demonstrate new textile-enabled carbon nanotube heat exchange geometries," said Geoff Wehmeyer, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Rice University.

Mulderphoto for Adobe Stock

Heat exchangers are used by engineers for both heating and cooling processes.

Pushing the technology further

The focus of the newly-funded research is to improve Galvorn's thermal conductivity, enabling higher efficiency of heat exchange. While Galvorn has already achieved higher conduction than that of aluminum, the challenge of beating copper's superior conductivity is the project team's aim.

Production of Galvorn can create much lower GHG emissions than traditional high-thermal conductivity metals. The flexibility and strength of Galvorn also allow new forms and manufacturing methods for heat exchanger fins, such as textile-based designs, rather than traditional extruded metal. In fabric form, each filament of Galvorn has a high surface area down to the nanoscale, which could enhance thermal contact even further, simultaneously facilitating decarbonization while enabling the development of better, higher-efficiency heat exchangers of tomorrow.

"Creating textile-based heat exchangers allows us to leverage the strength and flexibility of Galvorn; it's a powerful example of what makes this material so valuable," said Colin Young, senior research scientist at DexMat. "Galvorn's unique combination of superior properties means we can create novel solutions for challenges both old and new."

The team will continue refining and commercializing the business with support from Shell Ventures, the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, the National Science Foundation, the United States Air Force, and others.

"DexMat presents an opportunity to capture methane, an abundant and inexpensive resource, and use it to replace materials such as steel, aluminum, and copper with a more sustainable option," said Aimee LaFleur, investment principal at Shell. "We are excited to be part of DexMat's journey going forward and to realize their ambitions."

When adopted at scale across industries such as energy production, refrigeration, food processing and manufacturing – including cement, steel, construction materials, and refining – successful integration of Galvorn represents the potential of a multi-gigaton carbon reduction opportunity.


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