IWT SBO Project COMPOHEX

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The COMPOHEX project

Strategic basic research ....

The Flemish funding agency VLAIO (formerly IWT) has approved funding for the strategic basic research project (SBO) COMPOHEX.

This ambitious project has been filed by Ghent University earlier this year and it will start later this year. The project is fully entitled "Composite Heat Exchangers". It intends to research and develop new subcomponents and new polymer heat exchangers.

Over the four year project period (Y1 to Y4) it wishes to explore the potential of improving both low pressure (LP), low temperature (LT) heat exchangers as well as higher pressure (HP) and higher temperature (HT) heat exchangers. Both shell & tube, plate, tube-fin heat exchangers as well as new designs will be researched.

The heat exchanger market is an enormous market estimated at about 500.000 tons per year in the EU alone. The market is estimated to grow at 4.7% in the coming years. Corrosion resistance and scarcity of materials are two important factors. Polymers and polymer compounds are an alternative material that is also known to be corrosion resistant. Polymer or composite heat exchangers could be an interesting approach bringing added value in many applications.

Composite heat exchanger do exist on the market but in order to cope with the lower thermal conductivity of polymers currently only thin walled systems are commercially available. Moreover, the existing polymer heat exchanger designs are to a very large extent inspired by traditional metal heat exchanger designs. As a consequence, the existing solutions do not fully cope with the challenges and do not grasp the opportunities in terms of weight, thermal performance, temperature and pressure levels, cost, … Through innovative research this project intends to open up a number of applications for composite heat exchanger that cannot be tackled today.

... supported by an Industrial Advisory Board 

A group of industrial companies will follow the project and help to steer the research activities as to maximize the potential usage for their business. We assembled a group of companies from different elements in the value chain:

  • Material suppliers,
  • Manufacturers of polymer subcomponents and machinery,
  • Manufacturers of heat exchangers and heat exchanger designers,
  • Integrators and heat exchanger designer & manufacturers,
  • End users

From our discussion with industry and looking at the state of the art, we derived four research goals (RG):

  • RG1 - Improved designs for Low Temperature, Low Pressure polymer heat exchangers [6bar, 90°C].
  • RG2 - Increased life time & lower cost for High Temperature polymer heat exchangers. [up to 250°C, 1bar].
  • RG3- Higher pressure Low Temperature polymer heat exchangers [up to 30bar, 60°C].
  • RG4 - Exploring the boundary limits of High Pressure, High Temperatur polymer heat exchangers [>10bar, >150°C].
  • RG5 - Validated integrated design methods.

Clearly a multidisciplinary approach is required. This is resembled by the involved research groups:

    The impact of this project can he huge, or as one of the companies stated:

    If composite heat exchangers -reaching a set of specifications- would be available, this would fundamentally change the cost equation and lead to a complete change in the value chain.

    Typical applications where the strengths of polymer heat exchangers best fit the application are: HVAC systems, solar boilers, waste heat recovery applications, bottom cycling, ...

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    Final Conference | Engineering polymers for thermal applications, 28/11/19 @ Ghent