Rice researchers receive $1.5M federal grant to support energy transition

Interdisciplinary team to explore applications of carbon nanotube materials for improved heat exchange.

Geoff Wehmeyer

An interdisciplinary team of Rice researchers has received a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Industrial Efficiency and Decarbonization Office to explore applications of carbon nanotube (CNT) materials for improved heat exchange.

“The goal of our team is to develop materials and devices that will support energy transition by producing low-CO2 footprint CNT materials with superior properties at competitive costs,” said Geoff Wehmeyer, assistant professor of mechanical engineering (MECH) and the project’s lead investigator.

The project, titled “High Thermal Conductivity Carbon Nanotube Fibers for Improved Heat Exchange,” aims to replace high-CO2 footprint metals currently used in heat exchanger fins to promote decarbonization in various industrial applications. It will help advance the goals of the DoE’s Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap and its Industrial Heat Shot Energy Earthshot Initiative.

The research team will focus on improvements to the processing that increases the thermal conductivity of CNT fibers to 10 percent better-than-copper levels, and to show that CNT fibers can be woven into textile-based CNT devices for potential use as fins for heat exchangers common in industrial applications.

“This collaborative project builds on Rice’s expertise in manufacturing highly aligned CNT materials,” Wehmeyer said. “The thermal conductivity enhancements will be achieved through new processing approaches in Matteo Pasquali’s lab, such as doping, annealing and material selection.

“My group and Jun Kono’s group will study the properties of the materials to understand the thermal physics behind the conductivity changes. 3D textile manufacturing capabilities in Vanessa Sanchez’s lab and heat exchange testing in Dan Preston’s lab will then demonstrate the effectiveness of heat exchange devices for industrial decarbonization.”

The research will be done in collaboration with Dexmat, the startup company spun out from Rice and co-founded by Matteo Pasquali, A.J. Hartsook Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, professor of chemistry, and of materials science and nanoengineering, and director of Carbon Hub. The work builds on projects funded by Carbon Hub to explore the thermal properties and applications of CNT materials.

Wehmeyer’s co-investigators, in addition to Pasquali, are Vanessa Sanchez, incoming assistant professor of MECH; Daniel Preston, assistant professor of MECH; Junichiro Kono, Karl F. Hasselmann Chair in Engineering and professor of electrical and computer engineering; Glen Irvin, research professor in ChBE. His DexMat collaborators are CTO and co-founder Dmitri Tsentalovich and senior research scientist Colin Young, both of whom are Rice Ph.D. graduates.