MIT Engineers Discover How to Save Energy as New surface treatments might reduce energy consumption in a variety of industrial applications.
An energy-intensive stage involving the boiling of water or other fluids is fundamental to a vast array of industrial processes, including the majority of electricity-generating facilities, many chemical manufacturing systems, and even cooling systems for electronic devices.
They might drastically cut their energy use by increasing the efficiency of water heating and evaporation systems. Using a particularly designed surface treatment for the materials utilized in these systems, MIT researchers have now discovered a means to do this.
Together, three distinct types of surface changes at various length scales account for higher efficiency. In an article published in the journal Advanced Materials, recent MIT graduate Youngsup Song Ph.D. ’21, Ford Professor of Engineering Evelyn Wang, and four other MIT researchers present their novel results. The scientists stress that this preliminary discovery is still a laboratory size and that further work is necessary to establish a workable, industrial-scale technique.
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Despite the fact that their study has demonstrated that the combination of different types of surface treatments may work and accomplish the intended outcomes, Wang explains that this research was conducted in a laboratory setting that could not be readily scaled up to real devices. “These buildings are not designed to be scaled in their present form,” she explains, but rather serve to demonstrate that such a system is viable. One of the next steps will be to identify other techniques for generating these types of surface textures, so that they may be applied to larger scales.
“Showing that we can control the surface in this way to get improvement is the first step,” she says. “The next step is to think about ways to make things more scalable.” For example, in these experiments, the pillars on the surface were made using clean-room techniques that are often used to make semiconductor chips. However, there are other, easier ways to make such structures, such as electrodeposition. There are also many ways to make the surface nanostructure textures, and some may be easier to scale up than others.
In its current form, this process could be used for some important small-scale applications, such as the thermal management of electronic devices. This is an area that is becoming more important as semiconductor devices get smaller and it becomes more important to control how much heat they give off. Wang says, “There is definitely a place where this is very important.”
Even these kinds of uses will take some time to develop because thermal management systems for electronics usually use dielectric liquids instead of water. The surface tension and other properties of these liquids are different from water, so the size of the surface features would have to be changed to match. Wang says that one of the next steps in the research is to look into these differences.
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