A novel lung-inspired 3D-printed desiccant-coated heat exchanger for high-performance humidity management in buildings

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Offering an independent humidity management method for buildings, desiccant-coated heat exchangers (DCHXs) are deemed a promising approach to improve the overall energy efficiency of air conditioning (AC) systems. State-of-the-art DCHXs, however, are bound with conventional HX topologies either providing limited desiccant-air interfacial areas or introducing excessive pressure drop penalties. Here, a novel 3D-printed DCHX concept inspired by the bronchi arrangement of a human lung is introduced to address the shortcomings inherent in existing DCHX designs. The proposed lung-inspired DCHX utilizes two intertwined bicontinuous flow networks enabling highly efficient heat and mass transfer characteristics for augmented adsorption and regeneration processes at low pressure drop penalties. While the first network evenly distributes an incoming air stream through the entire volume of the lung-inspired DCHX, the second network volumetrically splits a cooling water stream within and through the first network. Effects of various parameters including air flow rate, outdoor air humidity ratio, and regeneration temperature on dehumidification performance and energy efficiency of the proposed lung-inspired DCHX were investigated. Experimental results indicated the proposed lung-inspired 3D-printed DCHX outperforms existing DCHX systems by demonstrating an excellent balance between a high volumetric adsorption rate and a low pressure drop penalty. The volumetric adsorption rate of the proposed lung-inspired DCHX technology is 54.8 g/m3-s, a more than two-fold improvement compared with state-of-the-art DCHX systems. Additionally, the lung-inspired DCHX offers high thermal energy efficiency of 56% at a low regeneration temperature of 40 °C. Therefore, the proposed lung-inspired 3D-printed DCHX offers a new solid-desiccant-based air dehumidification pathway for next-generation high-performance AC systems.

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Energy Conversion and Management