Superhydrophobic heat exchangers delay frost formation and enhance efficency of electric vehicle heat pumps

Allison J. Mahvi, Kalyan Boyina, Andy Musser, Stefan Elbel, Nenad Miljkovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The number of electric vehicles has rapidly expanded as high-performance automotive lithium-ion batteries have become more affordable. However, the range of electric vehicles decreases in cold climates partly because of the additional thermal loads associated with cabin heating. One way to improve the efficiency of cabin heating is to replace resistive heating elements with an air-source heat pump system. However, to gain the full benefit of heat pumping, frost formation on the outdoor heat exchanger must be minimized. In this work, we modified the surface wettability of aluminum louvered-fin automotive heat pump evaporators and tested them under realistic operating conditions in a transcritical carbon dioxide (CO2) heat pump. Each heat exchanger underwent several consecutive frosting and defrosting cycles to understand the cyclic performance of the system. The heat exchanger with a superhydrophobic outer surface was able to delay frost formation and maintain higher heat transfer rates when compared to heat exchangers with higher surface energies (hydrophilic). The delayed frost formation resulted in a system efficiency benefit in the first few frosting cycles but diminished in later cycles due to water retention and incomplete defrosting. However, for most automotive applications the superhydrophobic heat exchanger showed substantial benefits for normal driving trips. The scalable and optimized superhydrophobic heat exchangers developed here have the potential to increase the efficiency of automotive heat pumps and consequently increase the range and reduce energy consumption of electric vehicles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number121162
JournalInternational Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Aluminum
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Defrosting
  • Frosting
  • Heat exchanger
  • Heat pump
  • Jumping droplet, Desublimation, Icing
  • Microchannel
  • Superhydrophobic
  • Water retention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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