RMIT scientists have come up with 3D printed catalysts to help solve overheating issues in the hypersonic flight.
The catalysts were produced using Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF) technology in RMIT’s Digital Manufacturing Facility.
Professor Suresh Bhargava – director of RMIT’s Center for Advanced Materials and Industrial Chemistry (CAMIC), and Distinguished Professor Milan Brandt – director of the Digital Manufacturing Facility, conceptualized the idea of 3D printed catalysts and chemical reactor design.
According to lead researcher Dr Selvakannan Periasamy, their work tackles one of the biggest challenges in the development of hypersonic aircraft: controlling the incredible heat that builds up when planes fly at more than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5).
“Our lab tests show the 3D printed catalysts we’ve developed have great promise for fueling the future of hypersonic flight,” says Periasamy.
“Powerful and efficient, they offer an exciting potential solution for thermal management in aviation – and beyond.”
“With further development, we hope this new generation of ultra-efficient 3D printed catalysts could be used to transform any industrial process where overheating is an ever-present challenge.”
To make the new catalysts, the team first 3D printed tiny heat exchangers made of metal alloys and coated them with synthetic minerals known as zeolites.
They then replicated at lab scale the extreme temperatures and pressures experienced by the fuel at hypersonic speeds, to test the functionality of their design.
When the 3D printed structures heated up, some of the metal moved into the zeolite framework – a process crucial to the unprecedented efficiency of the new catalysts.
“Our 3D printed catalysts are like miniature chemical reactors and what makes them so incredibly effective is that mix of metal and synthetic minerals,” says first author and PhD researcher Roxanne Hubesch.
“It’s an exciting new direction for catalysis, but we need more research to fully understand this process and identify the best combination of metal alloys for the greatest impact.”
The next steps for the scientists include optimizing the 3D printed catalysts by studying them with X-ray synchrotron techniques and other in-depth analysis methods.
They are also hoping to extend the potential applications of the work into air pollution control for vehicles and miniature devices to improve indoor air quality.
Image and content: RMIT