Simulation-Based Engineering Fosters Innovation and Invention

Ozgur Yildirim and Zihong Guo
Intellectual Ventures
Bellevue, WA

Simulation-based engineering is the key to shortening time to market for innovations. Intellectual Ventures, in Bellevue, WA, is reaping the benefits of using COMSOL Multiphysics to accelerate their workflow from design study to prototype, and then on to their customers as inventions through various partnerships and licensing programs. Projects where COMSOL has been used include the beam-steering metamaterials satellite antenna, the TerraPower nuclear reactor conceptual design, and a cold storage device for the distribution of vaccine.

A recent example of an invention from Intellectual Ventures is the micro-channel counter-current regenerative heat exchanger (RHX). This device operates at very high efficiencies by using heat in the fluid leaving the RHX to heat the incoming fluid. It can achieve efficiencies as high as 90%. It is used in applications like the sterilization of water and similar liquids.

As micro-heat exchangers are relatively new innovations and differ greatly in their behavior from traditional heat exchangers, Ozgur Yildirim and his team turned to modeling and simulation to build their own unique, knowledge-based system. COMSOL Multiphysics was not only integral in testing different designs, but also in understanding the underlying concepts of these miniature heat exchangers.

To accurately simulate the device, their models took into account structural, fluid, and thermal effects to calculate pressure losses, optimize the regenerative efficiency, ensure the structural integrity of the membranes separating the channels, and test configurations of the array of supports to avoid membrane collapse. Further, COMSOL Multiphysics was an integral part in building a functioning physical prototype where thermal vias and adhesives were evaluated, and designs were used directly in the photolithography process. The result was a physical prototype that reached an energy efficiency of 98%.

CAD model of the micro-channel counter-current RHX device