Printed circuit heat exchangers (PCHEs) have an important role in supercritical CO2 (sCO2) Brayton cycles because of their small footprint and the high level of recuperation required for this power cycle. Compact heat exchangers like PCHEs are a rapidly evolving technology, with many companies developing various designs. One technical unknown that is common to all compact heat exchangers is the flow distribution inside the headers that affects channel flow uniformity. For compact heat exchangers, the core frontal area is often large compared with the inlet pipe area, increasing the possibility of flow maldistribution. With the large area difference, there is potential for higher flow near the center and lower flow around the edges of the core. Flow maldistribution increases pressure drop and decreases effectiveness. In some header geometries, flow separation inside the header adds to the pressure drop without increasing heat transfer.
This is the first known experiment to test for flow maldistribution by direct velocity measurements in the headers. A PCHE visualization prototype was constructed out of transparent acrylic for optical flow measurements with Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV). The channels were machined out of sheets to form many semi-circular cross sections typical of chemically-etched plates used in PCHE fabrication. These plates were stacked and bolted together to resemble the core geometry. Two header geometries were tested, round and square, both with a normally-oriented jet.
PIV allows for velocities to be measured in an entire plane instantly without disturbing the flow. Small particles of approximately 10 micrometers in diameter were added to unheated water. The particles were illuminated by two laser flashes that were carefully timed, and two images were acquired with a specialized digital camera. The movement of particle groups was detected by a cross-correlation algorithm with a result of about 50k velocity measurements in a plane. The velocity distribution inside the header volume was mapped using this method over many planes by traversing the PCHE relative to the optical equipment. The level of flow maldistribution was measured by the spatially-changing velocity coming out of the channels. This effect was quantified by the coefficient of variation proposed by Baek et al. The relative levels of flow maldistribution in the different header geometries in this study were assessed. With highly-resolved velocity measurements, improvements to header geometry to reduce flow maldistribution can be developed.