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3D-printed porous media

19 January 2024

Almost every item we touch is created by industrial processes that involve heat exchangers, separators, and catalytic reactors. These critically depend on heat and mass transfer between gases, liquids, or solids. Learn more about 3D-printed porous media for process engineering.


Image: Ben Houlton working on 3D printed porous media.

Chemical engineering design involves maximising heat and/or mass transfer rate, whilst minimising the pressure drop. Traditionally, design choices have been limited by manufacturing methods using tubes, plates and randomly-packed particles. Our research shows that 3D printing introduces new possibilities for the design of optimal geometrically-complex flow channel structures, potentially enabling game changing performance in a variety of applications.

Our research programme is funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) ($9,812,550 over five years) and addresses all aspects of 3D printing in chemical engineering, from the design of the pore structure and materials, to the design of the 3D printers themselves. Our team comprises chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, biologists, computer scientists and materials scientists dedicated to disrupting 130 years of chemical engineering science.

Research objectives

Our first research aim is to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to investigate fluid flow and characterise heat and mass transfer in 3D-printed structured porous materials. This will allow us to define the equations needed for the chemical engineering design process.

Our second research aim enables the physical design of microstructure objects. First, we will use computer science to circumvent the large file sizes and long rendering times associated with 3D printing fine porous structures. Then, we will use machine learning to optimise porous geometries.

Our third research aim is to understand the effects of our 3D printing method on material properties. This will enable us to develop new, highly specialised material formulations. Combined with the results of our other research aims, this will enable us to develop and characterise applications of structured porous materials such as catalytic reactors, tissue scaffolds and purification processes.

Funders and collaborators
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