How hybrid DfAM and 3D printing are moving carbon capture forward


Kirill VolchekOctober 24, 20236 minute read

Reducing carbon emissions is the most urgent environmental issue of our time. Unfortunately, even if total emissions are significantly slowed, we will need to remove even more carbon from the atmosphere to achieve net-negative reductions.

That is where carbon capture technology comes in. It involves redirecting exhaust fumes into a system that removes carbon so that it can then be stored or used to make new products. Carbon capture starts with a fan or a turbine drawing pressurized air into the direct air capture system. Next, a filter grabs the carbon and releases CO2-free air. When the filter becomes full, it is heated to release the captured carbon for storage or utilization. 

Every step in this process involves complex components – turbines, gas condensers, heat exchangers, and gas contactors – which can be expensive to manufacture.  

Additive manufacturing (AM) significantly improves the economics of carbon capture systems, but you need to be able to make the parts efficiently. 3DXpert, Oqton’s industrial AM software, is being used to design and print several innovative parts for carbon capture because it has the capabilities necessary to streamline their manufacture. 

Let’s look at the advantages of using AM for carbon capture components and the examples where 3DXpert was involved. 

Overcoming manufacturing challenges with 3D printing  

AM simplifies the design and manufacture of critical carbon capture components in three ways: 

Part consolidation

You can transform complicated designs into monolithic parts that cost less to produce and simplify the supply chain. 

Surface area

Carbon capture components involve processes that depend on maximizing surface area in order to operate at optimal efficiency. AM facilitates the manufacture of lattices which deliver this surface area increase.  

Production factors

To make carbon capture profitable, its components need to use advanced materials to ensure maximum service life. AM allows the use of these materials much more easily. It also accelerates the development process, allowing faster iteration and scalable manufacturing. 

How hybrid DfAM allows efficient design of complex components 

There is a catch to 3D printing the type of components you use in carbon capture – they usually incorporate multiple kinds of geometric representation. One 3D model could have solids for the inlets and outlets, meshes for organic shapes, parametric beams for complex lattices, implicit geometry for interior structures, and voxels for grid-based formulations. This range of geometries is often a huge issue for AM software. 

In most cases, software can only handle one of these representations or file formats. This leads to big problems, like converting implicit geometries to meshes and creating an unusably large file size. Or turning solid files into mesh and dealing with data integrity deterioration.  

Ideally, you want to be able to keep the original geometries inside 3D printing software. This is what hybrid modeling, or hybrid DfAM, makes possible. It refers to the ability to combine various geometric representations in a single design, edit them, and then convert them into accurate printing instructions from their native format. 

With hybrid DfAM capabilities in 3DXpert, for example, designers can use implicit representations, solids, meshes and voxels. 

Carbon capture case studies 

Here are three examples where hybrid DfAM was needed to create components for carbon capture. 

1. Heat exchanger 

Heatexchanger designed in 3DX

This heat exchanger incorporates multiple geometry representations. You can see implicitly modeled intensification fins, piping made with a combination of BRep and mesh features, and solid flanges. 

The part was designed to reduce the need for supports to a bare minimum. The slicing capabilities within 3DXpert made it possible to print with the AL6061 alloy, which can pose challenges, especially when it is used to make extremely thin fins (300 microns) that achieve much higher cooling efficiency than a traditional exchanger. 

2. Stackable chiller 

Stackable chiller

This chiller was specifically designed for very stable cooling. It achieves stable chilling within four seconds and provides a micro-Kelvin level cooling gradient in the XY plane. The design allows consolidation and 30:1 part count reduction, so it is much less expensive to produce. 

The design uses dual chilling circuits, one through the radial fin array and another in the surrounding jacket. The cooling is made efficient with the help of the stochastic (Voronoi based) lattice that is placed in internal voids to induce turbulence and provide more surface area for better heat transfer. 

The active element of the chiller is a pseudo-random lattice structure. Based on uniform octet truss cells, it was slightly shuffled and randomized to break straight flow paths and introduce more surface area, achieving high-efficiency precipitation. 

3. Helical gas contactor 

Helical gas contactor

The design of this helical gas contactor consolidated almost 500 parts into one monolithic part. 

The contactor has three main subsystems: 

a spiral chamber with lattice surfaces to capture carbon 

a solvent delivery and distribution system that washes out captured carbon via showerheads 

and a cooling jacket for thermal control. 

The outer body, solvent distribution and cooling jacket geometries were designed with BRep solid modeling. The contacting lattice surfaces were designed with ‘X’ shaped cells of zero-thickness lattice fins distributed in the conformal spiral space. To avoid the need to support the top surface of the spiral chamber, the topmost row of the lattice was replaced with a row of special cells providing additional fins as a support geometry. 

Initial research showed that a lattice design with “normal” geometrical thickness would take too long to print because regular slicing and hatching technology creates boundary contours and rotating hatches with many small vectors. The initial estimate was nearly three weeks of printing. With 3DXpert, it was possible to create an optimized hatching strategy that would reduce machine time down to one week.  

Putting the “M” in DfAM 

Additive manufacturing has come a long way in the last few years. When we started developing 3DXpert, eight years ago, printing complex parts with multiple geometric representations was nearly impossible. But we’ve been continuously improving the software’s capabilities to help innovators turn their ideas into reality. With these carbon capture parts, we’re seeing that come to fruition. 

If you'd like to learn more about 3DXpert or request a demo, check out the product page.

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