Recent technological developments, mostly in the fields of concentrated solar power and microelectronics, have driven heat transfer requirements higher than current heat exchangers are capable of producing. Processing power is increasing, while processor size simultaneously decreases and the heat flux requirements of concentrating solar power plants are being driven up by the high temperatures that produce the best thermal efficiency. Heat transfer in microchannels, specifically when utilising flow boiling, has been shown to produce significantly higher heat fluxes than their macro-scale counterparts and could have a large impact on many industrial fields. This high heat transfer characteristic is caused by a number of factors, including the large difference between the sensible and latent heat of the working fluid and the evaporation of a thin liquid film that forms between the microchannel walls and the vapour bubbles. These phenomena occur at incredibly small scales. Flow visualisations, temperature and pressure measurements are therefore difficult to obtain.
Many experiments that cover a wide range of microchannel sizes, shapes and orientations, and utilise different working fluids and heat fluxes have been reported. However, the correlations between confined boiling, heat flux and pressure drop have mostly been produced for macro-scale flow. Many different criteria have been developed to distinguish the macro scale from the micro scale, but the general consensus is that macro-scale heat transfer correlations do not perform well when used in the micro scale. Heat transfer correlations are typically created by performing physical experiments over a wide range of parameters and then quantifying the effect that varying these parameters has on the performance of the system. The small scale and high complexity of microchannel-based heat exchangers make visualising the flow within them difficult and inaccurate because both the working fluid and the microchannel walls distort light. The use of numerical modelling via computational fluid dynamics software allows phenomena that occur within the channel to be simulated, which provides valuable insight into how rapid bubble growth affects the surrounding fluid, which can lead to the design of better heat exchangers.
This study focused on numerically modelling the growth of a single bubble during the flow boiling of FC-72 in a microchannel with a hydraulic diameter of 0.9 mm and an aspect ratio of 10. The numerical domain was limited to a 10 mm section of the microchannel where bubble nucleation and detachment were observed in an experimental study on a similar microchannel setup. The high cost of 3D simulations was offset by an interface-tracking mesh refinement method, which refined cells not only at the interface, but also a set distance on either side of the interface. To focus on the effects of gravity, a simplified approach is used, which isolates certain phenomena. Density gradients, material roughness and multiple bubble interaction are ignored so that the effects of buoyancy and bubble detachment can be analysed. Simulations are first performed in a 2D section through the centre of the microchannel, and then in the full 3D domain.
In both the 3D numerical and experimental cases (Meyer et al., 2020), the bottom heated case had the lowest maximum temperature and the highest heat transfer characteristics, which were influenced by the detachment of the bubble from the heated surface. This observation indicates that the gravitational orientation of the channel can have a significant effect on the heat transfer characteristics of microchannel-based heat exchangers, and that more investigation is required to characterise the extent of this effect.
Dissertation (MEng)--University of Pretoria, 2019.