High Performance, Ultra-lightweight Heat Exchangers


SABRE engine image

Technology abstract

A UK company is developing a new class of hypersonic propulsion engine that relies on an ultra-lightweight heat exchanger to cool inlet air to the compressor. The micro-tube heat exchanger can cool intake air from 1000 degC to sub-zero in 1/20th of a second. Offering 95% effectiveness and zero leakage, this high-performance heat exchanger is ideal for high heat duty and space-critical applications, such as those found in aerospace and power generation. 

Technology Description

The Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) is a new class of hypersonic propulsion system that relies on an ultra-lightweight heat exchanger to rapidly cool the inlet air to the engine. The heat exchanger is arranged in a counter-flow configuration, with air flowing radially inward while thousands of thin-walled tubes carry a helium coolant outwards along the spirals. This arrangement is extremely effective and can cool inlet air of up to 1000 degC down to -150 degC in just 0.05 seconds, while avoiding liquefaction of the air, or blockage from freezing water vapour.


The heat exchanger is extremely compact and ultra-lightweight in comparison with equivalent duty heat exchangers, and it has a remarkable effectiveness (around 95%).  Depending on the operating conditions, the heat exchanger can achieve up to 400kW/kg of material. The manufacturing expertise behind this offer means that the joins of the micro-tube arrangement are hermetically sealed, providing zero leakage.


Due to its high effectiveness and ultra-lightweight nature, this advanced heat exchanger has the potential to revolutionise thermal management across a range of industries, including aerospace, motorsport, chemical processing, and power generation. For any space-critical application, this heat exchanger provides a compact solution. For mass-critical applications such as motorsport, the ultra-lightweight design provides significant advantage. The high performance aspect of the pre-cooler means that it provides rapid cooling, preventing overheating of engine components.

Innovations & Advantages

• High surface-to-weight ratio (providing ≈95% effectiveness)
• Ability to handle inlet air temperatures of up to 1000 degC and coolant pressures of around 200bar. 
• Hermetically sealed joins mean near zero leakage
• Suitable for high thermal gradients - Rapid cooling of inlet air from 1000 to -150 degC in 1/20 of a second
• Very low pressure drops on the air/gas flow
• Ultra-lightweight
• Compact tube and manifold arrangement
• Suitable for corrosive fluids 
• Frost control technology can be integrated into the heat exchanger
• No blockages caused by freezing water vapour
• Modular design makes it possible to repair or replace individual modules

Current and Potential Domains of Application

• Pre-cooler for the new hypersonic SABRE
• Motorsport
• Power generation
• Aerospace
• Chemical processing