AMS Spring 2023

Shell & GE Additive Collaborate on 3D Printed Oxygen Hydrogen Micromixer

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At Formnext 2022, Shell and GE Additive presented an R&D project that the two global conglomerates partnered on to design and produce using additive manufacturing (AM): an oxygen hydrogen micromixer, from nickel alloy 718. Shell and GE Additive printed the part at Shell’s 3D Printing Center of Excellence (CoE) and Workshop in Amsterdam, on the GE Additive Concept Laser M Line system.

Although the part is just for demonstration purposes, oxygen hydrogen micromixers are increasingly important for a variety of net-zero energy applications, as well as for enhancing the efficiency of turbines powered by fossil fuels. Thus, the project could very likely make its way into real-world applications sooner rather than later. GE itself has received ample funding this year from the Department of Energy (DOE), for multiple projects related to hydrogen-powered gas turbines.

In a press release announcing the 3D printed oxygen hydrogen micromixer, Sonali Sonawane Thakker, a lead design engineer at GE Additive’s Munich-based AddWorks team, explained, “…[O]ur preliminary research showed that existing micromakers — also known as hydrogen-oxygen burners — are typically cylindrical, when conventionally manufactured, to accommodate the complex layout of tanks, pipes and nozzles. For additional complexity we chose a large conical design and also moved from a flat to a curved structure with an ISO grid to increase the overall strength, rather than a customary flat one. …I took inspiration from way pollen grains form in a flower head. The curved wall and the conical shape also reflects the shape of a petal.”

Part of Shell’s Energy Transition Campus Amsterdam (ETCA), the 3D Printing CoE and Workshop encapsulates the role of AM in the decarbonization strategies of huge multinationals. It is especially symbolic, in that sense, that Shell worked with GE Additive on the project.

At this year’s International Conference on Additive Manufacturing (ICAM), Angeline Goh, Shell’s 3D printing technology manager, pointed out that one of the company’s principal interests in digitizing supply chains is to minimize the cost wasted on purchasing and storing spare parts that will never be used. Along those lines, corporate giants have at least one significant advantage over “leaner” competitors, in terms of being able to learn from their own mistakes.

That same sort of rationale also explains why AM and the digitization of supply chains are so crucial to renewable energy sectors. Aside from providing cleaner sources of fuel, the main thing that renewable energy companies can do to ensure long-term minimization of their carbon footprint is to simply avoid getting into the bad supply-chain habits of legacy corporations. As much as the use of solar and wind energy, for example, has increased in the past decade, even these sectors are still new enough to rapidly shift to advanced manufacturing practices. This means that all renewables with even more recent starting points could, theoretically, only ever be brought up to scale with advanced manufacturing.

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