Materials-to-device design of hybrid metal-polymer heat exchanger tubes for low temperature waste heat recovery

Manjunath C. Rajagopal, Ho Chan Chang, Timothy Man, Gowtham Kuntumalla, Yuquan Meng, Sreenath Sundar, Hanyang Zhao, Srinivasa Salapaka, Chenhui Shao, Placid Ferreira, Nenad Miljkovic, Sanjiv Sinha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Heat exchangers for low temperature (<150 °C) waste heat recovery (WHR) are challenging due to severe constraints on materials costs, manufacturing methods, and maintenance opportunities after installation. Here, the use of polymers instead of metals, offers an avenue for cost reduction in WHR applications, provided the typical low thermal conductivity of polymers (∼0.2 W m−1 K−1) that results in poor overall heat transfer coefficient can be overcome. Previous approaches to enhance the thermal conductivity of polymers remain problematic in terms of cost, thermal, and thermomechanical considerations. In this work, we propose a novel hybrid metal-polymer composite assembled from strips of polymer and copper. Polymer strips with metal-clad edges are wound helically and the interfaces between the strips joined to obtain a tube for a cross-flow heat exchanger. Interfaces are designed to enhance effective heat conduction across the material and increase the overall heat transfer coefficient. Through numerical simulations, we obtain metal-polymer layouts that achieve wall effective thermal conductivity ∼1 W m−1 K−1 at ∼23% or ∼35% volume fraction of copper or aluminum, respectively. The conductivity enhancement is sufficient for typical low temperature WHR, resulting in a ∼20% enhancement in the overall heat transfer coefficient compared to a similar all-polymer heat exchanger. Thermomechanical simulations revealed that the composite pipe designs can withstand >1.4 MPa internal pressure, under the normal operating conditions of the heat exchanger. Our work provides guidelines for designing macroscopic metal-polymer composites that can be adapted for specific requirements such as reduced materials costs, ease of manufacturing, and heat transfer enhancement. The optimized design of hybrid metal-polymer heat exchanger tubes potentially provides a scalable and cost-effective route toward harvesting waste heat from low temperature sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118497
JournalInternational Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer
StatePublished - Nov 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes


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