CAMBRIDGE, MASS. (June 14, 1:35 p.m. ET) — The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will recive a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue its research into polyethylene fibers and sheets that can transfer heat while remaining an electrical insulator.
The Department of Energy said MIT researchers are working on a continuous manufacturing process to make high molecular weight, high thermal conductivity polyethylene fibers and sheets to replace metals and ceramics parts in heat transfer equipment.
The MIT program is directed by Gang Chen, a professor of power engineering and the director of MIT's Micro and Nano Engineering Laboratories. In a 2010 paper published in Nature Nanotechnology, Chen described a process in which the polymer molecules are lined up the same way to conduct heat in one direction. It was described as being useful for computer processor chips, solar hot water collectors and heat exchangers.
According to the Energy department, the technology could be useful for fuel savings in automotive applications, as PE's density is 35 percent less than aluminum.
Chen's research paper said that the team transformed the PE fiber making it about 300 times more thermally conductive than normal PE. It said that if the fibers can be made in higher quantities, then it could provide a cheaper alternative to metals used in heat transfer.
In the June 12 announcement, the Energy department said that it awarded more $54 million for 13 projects that transform technologies and materials to help U.S. companies increase energy efficiency.