The aluminum microchannel heat exchangers.
The aluminum microchannel heat exchangers.

They partnered with 3D printing company Fabrisonic to specifically design and print aluminium microchannel heat exchangers, which hold refrigerants used to move thermal energy and provide cooling or heating in many applications. 

The noninvasive techniques allowed the researchers to visualize how refrigerants reacted to different temperature levels without disrupting the refrigerant flow.

AM kept the microchannels small and compact, eliminating the need for extra material and refrigerant.

Heat transfer

'That’s what we’re trying to understand – what does the refrigerant look like on the inside of these channels?' said Patrick Geoghegan, a researcher with Oak Ridge's Buildings Technologies Research and Integration Center. 'Then you can understand how the heat transfer is actually taking place.'

Previously, the usual mode of operation was to cut off the top of a larger heat exchanger tube, cover it with Plexiglas and then peer inside as it was heated, a method Geoghegan said could lead to inaccurate results.