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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Exploring the Limits of Boiling and Evaporative Heat Transfer Using Micro/Nano Structures

  • Author(s): Lu, Ming-Chang
  • Advisor(s): Carey, Van P
  • et al.

This dissertation presents a study exploring the limits of phase-change heat transfer with the aim of enhancing critical heat flux (CHF) in pool boiling and enhancing thermal conductance in heat pipes. The state-of-the-art values of the CHF in pool boiling and the thermal conductance in heat pipes are about two orders of magnitudes smaller than the limits predicted by kinetic theory. Consequently, there seems to be plenty of room for improvement.

Pool boiling refers to boiling at a surface immersed in an extensive motionless pool of liquid. Its process includes heterogeneous nucleation, growth, mergence and detachment of vapor bubbles on a heating surface. It is generally agreed that the high heat transfer coefficient of boiling could be explained by the concept of single-phase forced convection, i.e., the motion of bubbles agitating surrounding liquid is similar to the process in single-phase forced convection. The occurrence of CHF results from a formation of a vapor film on the heater surface, which reduces the thermal conductance drastically and causes a huge temperature rise on the surface. Over the past few decades, researchers were struggling to identify the exact mechanism causing CHF. General observations are that both surface properties and pool hydrodynamics could affect the values of CHF.

Nanowire array-coated surfaces having a large capillary force are employed to enhance the CHF. It has been shown that CHFs on the nanowire array-coated surface could be doubled compared to the values on a plain surface. The obtained CHF of 224 ± 6.60 W/cm^2 on the nanowire-array coated surface is one of the highest values reported in the boiling heat transfer. To further enhance CHF, the mechanisms that govern CHF have been systematically explored. Experimental results show that the CHF on the nanowire array-coated surface are not limited by the capillary force. Instead, the CHF are dependent on the heater size. Corresponding experiments on plain surfaces with various heater sizes also exhibits similar heater-size dependence. The CHFs on nanowire array-coated surfaces and plain surfaces are consistent with the predictions of the hydrodynamic theory while a higher CHF is obtained on the nanowire array-coated surface as compared to the plain Si surface. This suggests that the CHFs are a result of the pool hydrodynamics while surface properties modify the corresponding hydrodynamic limits.

A heat pipe is a device that transports thermal energy in a very small temperature difference and thereby producing a very large thermal conductance. It relies on evaporation of liquid at the heated end of the pipe, flow of vapor between the heated and cooled end, condensation at the other end, and capillary-driven liquid flow through a porous wick between the condenser and the evaporation. The large latent heat involved in evaporation and condensation leads to very large heat flows for a small temperature drop along the heat pipe. Despite the large thermal conductance, their operation is limited by such factors as capillary limit, boiling limit, sonic limit and entrainment limit, etc. Among these operational limits, capillary and boiling limits are most frequently encountered. The capillary limit determines the maximum flow rate provided by the capillary force of the wick structure whereas boiling limit is referred to a condition that liquid supply is blocked by vapor bubbles in the wick. Consequently, the wick structure is the key component in a heat pipe, which determines the maximum capillary force and the dominant thermal resistance. In a heat pipe using evaporation as the dominant heat transfer mechanism, a thin liquid film (~ a few microns) extended from the solid structure in the wick causes the dominant thermal resistance. Therefore, if one reduces the pore size of a porous media, the thermal conductance could be enhanced by increasing the surface area of the thin liquid film. On the other hand, the classical thermodynamics depicts that the superheat required for evaporation is inversely proportional to the equilibrium radius of the meniscus. Consequently, enhancing thermal conductance via increasing the thin film area is contradictory to the effect of evaporation suppression for small pores.

A hierarchical wick structure with multiple length scales that enhances dry-out heat flux and thermal conductance simultaneously in heat pipes was demonstrated. This hierarchical wick structure is composed of a large microchannel array to reduce flow resistance and small pin-fin arrays to provide a large capillary force. The enhancement of thermal conductance is achieved via a large number of pin-fins for increasing the total thin film area. A thermal conductance defined by the slope of the curve of ~ 16.28 ± 1.33 W/cm^2-K and a dry-out heat flux of 228.85 ± 10.73 W/cm^2 were achieved by this design. Further, vapor transport resistance is minimized within the aligned-multi-scale wick structure. As a result, this wick does not pose a boiling limit. Artificial cavities were created in the wick structure to take the advantage of the high heat transfer coefficient of boiling heat transfer. The wick with artificial cavities successfully triggers boiling at a lower wall temperature resulting in a conductance of 9.02 ± 0.04 W/cm^2-K compared to an evaporation mode of 3.54 ± 0.01 W/cm^2-K. For a given heat flux, the wick with cavities effectively reduce wall temperature compared to a wick without cavities. Our experimental results display an enhancement of thermal conductance by using boiling heat transfer. This opens up a new direction for further enhancing thermal conductance in heat pipes by circumventing the limit in the evaporative heat transfer regime, in which further increase in surface area will eventually result in evaporation suppression in small pores.

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