Thermoelectric power generation accounts for nearly half of the water used in the United States, most of which is used to cool steam after it has passed through a steam turbine. Coal, natural gas, nuclear, and solar thermoelectric power plants typically consume water to cool the steam leaving the turbine. Most existing facilities use some form of wet cooling technology, such as once-through systems which dissipate heat in large bodies of water like rivers or lakes. Air-cooled heat exchangers (also known as dry cooling) essentially eliminates water loss from evaporation. However, present-day air-cooled technologies are expensive to install and may result in a loss of fuel to power conversion efficiency.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
The University of Maryland (UMD) will leverage recent advances in additive manufacturing to develop a next-generation air-cooled heat exchanger. The UMD team will assess the performance and cost of current state-of-the-art technology, including innovative manufacturing processes. The team will then utilize computer models to simulate a wide-range of novel heat exchanger designs that can radically enhance air-side heat transfer performance. The team will then physically build and test two 1 kilowatt (kW) prototype devices. If successful, these heat exchangers would enable new, highly-efficient dry cooling of steam condensers that could eliminate evaporative water losses from power plant cooling. Advances in efficient air-side cooling could also have significant spillover benefits in aerospace, automobile, air-conditioning and refrigeration, electronics cooling, and chemical processing.