Room-temperature polymer-assisted additive manufacturing of microchanneled magnetocaloric structures
Magnetic refrigeration is an energy-efficient, sustainable, environmentally-friendly alternative to the conventional vapor-compression cooling technology. There are several magnetic refrigerator device designs in existence today that are predicted to be highly energy-efficient, on condition that suitable working materials can be developed. This challenge in manufacturing magnetocaloric devices is unresolved, mainly due to issues related to shaping the mostly brittle magnetocaloric alloys into thin-walled channeled regenerator structures to facilitate efficient heat transfer between the solid refrigerant and the heat exchange fluid in an active magnetic regenerator (AMR) cooling device. To address this challenge, a novel extrusion-based additive manufacturing (AM) method has been developed to 3D print microchanneled magnetocaloric structures. The printing ink consists of magnetocaloric powders, a polymer binder, and multiple solvents to achieve desirable shear-thinning property, which is critical for a robust printing process. Acting as a sacrificial binding agent for the magnetic powders, the polymer binder holds the 3D printed structures in place and is removed subsequently using a two-step heat-treatment process. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the fabrication process, spatially designed microchannels with minimum dimensions of 150 µm were achieved using nanoscaled La0.6Ca0.4MnO3 powders (diameter~10 nm). Results indicate that the crystallographic properties and magnetofunctional response of the sintered 3D printed samples are comparable to that of the precursor powders. Overall, this study provides a promising route for realizing low-cost magnetic regenerators, thus potentially eliminating one of the main barriers to the commercialization of magnetic cooling technology.