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Exploring the Limits of Dropwise Condensation on Nano-structured Surfaces


Within the types of condensation that can form on a surface, dropwise condensation has been previously shown to produce condensation heat transfer coefficients up to an order of magnitude greater than film condensation. Among dropwise condensation investigations, it has also been shown that smaller droplets result in higher heat transfer coefficients. An area that is currently under investigation within condensation advancements is creating superhydrophobic surfaces that can sustain smaller droplets during condensation. However, as droplet diameters are reduced to sizes comparable to the flow's mean free path, various mechanisms are expected to affect transport as the flow transitions from a continuum to free molecular flow: non-continuum transport effects, curvature effects on surface tension and on saturation conditions, and interactions with nearby droplets.

In this dissertation, we investigate the limits of heat transfer performance on surfaces that strive to sustain dropwise condensation for smaller droplets. We explore and compare the limitations of dropwise condensation as mean droplet sizes are reduced to micro and nanoscales using three different models: one that uses an approximation for micro and nanoscale transport on an array of droplets, one that uses the DSMC method to simulate transport on a single droplet, and a third model that uses the DSMC method to simulate transport on an array of droplets.

We found the three different models to show similar trends; dropwise condensation heat transfer coefficients increased as droplet sizes were reduced, but only up to a certain point where non-continuum transport and curvature effects became significant. For pure steam condensing on a cold wall at standard atmospheric condition with 3 degrees Celsius of subcooling, drop- wise condensation heat transfer coefficients were found to peak when droplets approached diameters near 200 nm. The effects of varying contact angle, thermal accommodation, pres- sure, amount of subcooling, spacing between droplets, and introduction of noncondensible particles into the system are also explored and discussed in detail.

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