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INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ENERGY RESEARCH

Int. J. Energy Res. 2007; 31:12661274

Published online 13 February 2007 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/er.1298

Heat exchanger: From micro- to multi-scale

design optimization
Lingai Luo1,*,y, Yilin Fan1 and Daniel Tondeur2
1
2

Laboratoire Optimisation de la Conception et Ingenierie de lEnvironnement (LOCIE), Universite de Savoie, Campus

Scientique, Savoie Technolac, Le Bourget-Du-Lac Cedex 73376, France
Laboratoire des Sciences du Genie Chimique du CNRS, BP451 ENSIC-INPL 1 rue Grandville, Nancy F54001, France

SUMMARY
This paper presents a consideration of micro-heat exchangers design optimization for the aim of
process intensication. Two examples are discussed to illustrate dierent ways of heat transfer
intensication in micro-heat exchangers. To solve the key issue of the link between the micro-scale and
the macro-scale, a multi-scale design optimization method using fractal and constructal approaches is
introduced. The concept of a novel constructal heat exchanger is also proposed. Copyright # 2007 John
Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
KEY WORDS:

micro-heat exchanger; heat transfer intensication; multi-scale; fractal; constructal

1. INTRODUCTION
A heat exchanger is usually referred to as a micro-heat exchanger if the smallest dimension of
the channels is at the micrometre scale, for example from 10 mm to 1 mm. Heat exchange can
take place between the uid and a plate only, as a plate cooler in electronic devices, or between
two uids. The uid can be in the form of liquid or gas, remaining in the same form in the
exchange process or with a phase change, as in an evaporator or a condenser.
Beside the channel size, another important geometric characteristic is the surface area density
a (m2 m3), which means the ratio of heat exchange surface area A to volume V for one uid. It
reects the compactness of a heat exchanger and provides a criterion of classication. The
surface area density increases while the channel size decreases. Micro-heat exchangers usually
have a surface area density above about 10 000 m2 m3 (Shah, 1991).

*Correspondence to: Lingai Luo, LOCIE Universite de Savoie, Campus Scientique, Savoie Technolac, Le BourgetDu-Lac Cedex 73376, France.
y
E-mail: Lingai.LUO@univ-savoie.fr

Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Revised 30 November 2006
Accepted 11 December 2006

HEAT EXCHANGER: FROM MICRO- TO MULTI-SCALE DESIGN OPTIMIZATION

1267

By introducing the surface area density a in the specic heat exchanger performance equation,
the volumetric heat transfer power P=V (W m3) can be expressed as follows:

P
aFUDTm
V

Here, U, DTm and F refer to the overall heat transfer coecient (W m2 K1), the mean
temperature dierence (K) and the dimensionless mean temperature dierence correction factor
for ow conguration, respectively. It can be noted that for a specic heat exchanger
performance, high values of a lead to a corresponding high volumetric heat transfer power,
larger than that of the conventional equipment by several orders of magnitude. As a result, heat
exchanger design by miniaturization technology has become a common research focus for
process intensication (Ramshaw, 1995).

2. PROCESS INTENSIFICATION BY MINIATURIZATION: TWO EXAMPLES

Process intensication, an emergent notion quickly developing, refers to the strategy that
reduces the size of the equipment or process plants and increases the productivity, giving
substantial savings in capital cost. In detail, the objectives of process intensication include
compactness, simplicity, energy eciency, sustainability, productivity, etc. More generally, one
can dene objective functions that combine these various criteria or consider them in a distinct
way in a multi-objective optimization.
As to the heat exchangers, heat transfer intensication will increase the eciency of heat
transfer by decreasing the size of the heat exchanger. With the rapid development of microminiaturization and micro-fabrication technologies, some of the prototypes of micro-heat
exchangers have already been manufactured with an extremely high volumetric heat transfer
power. For presenting the potential of these micro-devices, let us mention here the rst example
of micro-structured heat exchangers developed in Karlsruhe Research Center (Bier et al., 1990,
1993), which gives a reference to micro-scale industrial applications. This cross-ow type microheat exchanger was produced by alternate crosswise stacking of square-shaped pieces of foils
provided with grooves of 100  70 mm. It has an active volume of 1  1  1 cm3 and a surface
area density of 14 200 m2 m3, with a total of 2000 channels in each ow direction (4000
channels per cm3). A very large thermal power has been found by experiments with water as
uid ow: an overall heat transfer coecient of 20 kW m2 K1 and a volumetric power per unit
temperature dierence of 300 MW m3 K1 could be achieved.
However, these micro-heat exchangers are not without shortcomings and some of the
limitations still make them stay in perspective. On one hand, the high performance is
counterbalanced by a high pressure drop (>4 bar), a rather weak temperature jump (about
108C) and an extremely short residence time (about 2 ms). On the other hand, those ne
channels (100  70 mm) are sensitive to corrosion, roughness and fouling of the surfaces.
To overcome some, but not all of these diculties, we proposed a prototype of countercurrent
exchanger with multiple passages micro-channels (Luo et al., 2000; Luo, 2001). The
conguration of the channels is illustrated in brief in Figure 1. It can be observed that there
Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

DOI: 10.1002/er

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Figure 1. Heat exchanger with multipassage micro-channels, plates A and B.

are two types of square plates, A and B, having the same shape (2.2  2.2 cm), which are stacked
alternatively so that plates A and B have their entries and exits on the dierent faces of the stack
(Figure 1). Other similar designs are obviously possible. There are 28 channels (200  200 mm)
on each plate, separated by walls with a thickness of 50 mm. The surface area density is about
12 000 m2 m3.
Compared to the rst example developed in Karlsruhe Research Center, the improvements
could be found as follows, with the aim of heat transfer intensication:
(i) The hydraulic diameter of the channels is 200 mm, about 2.4 times larger than that of the
rst example but still at micrometre scale, corresponding to a high volumetric heat
transfer power and relative low pressure drops.
(ii) Except for the entrance and exit areas, there is mainly a countercurrent ow pattern
between the two uids, as indicated on the gure, approaching the ideal condition of
entropy production equipartition.
(iii) The utilization of the entrance eect: one can take the benet of the turbulent ow pattern
to intensify the heat transfer.
(iv) Each channel pass is lengthened by some right angle turns therefore the residence time is
also increased and all the channels have the same length, making it possible to minimize
the variance of the residence time distribution. This yields a relatively higher temperature
jump and a better thermal performance.
Theoretical calculation with the Bricard correlation (1995) predicts an overall heat transfer
coecient of 500025 000 W m2 K1 and a volumetric power per unit temperature dierence of
315 MW m3 K1, with a ow rate of 115  103 m3 min1. These values are close to that of the
Karlsruhe micro-exchanger, giving an even slightly higher volumetric power. The inner
conguration (multiple passages and overall countercurrent) thus compensates the eect of
having larger channels. The pressure drop calculated is 1 bar at a ow rate of
10  103 m3 min1. Note that this value only corresponds to the pressure drop in the channels,
without considering that in the connections.
However, all the eorts mentioned above still cannot answer the question how to pass from
micro-scale to macro-scale while conserving the ecient thermal performance. Problems such as
connections, assembly, ow maldistribution, etc. still remain. In order to put these questions
into light, the concept of multi-scale optimization was introduced and investigated quite
intensively.
Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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3. MULTI-SCALE DESIGN OPTIMIZATION: FROM MICRO TO MACRO

Heat exchangers, as typical process and chemical engineering units, could be considered as
complex systems. Here, the micro-scale refers to the micro-channel structures inside the
exchangers where the heat transfer actually occurs and macro-scale refers to unit operations
dealing with the whole exchanger. Multi-scale optimization is a strategy of connecting the
geometry of a micro-scale with the macro-scale through several intermediate scales. It
formulates a complex system into a multi-objective variational problem that might be solved by
mathematical methods. The four critical issues (Li et al., 2004) are as follows:
(i)
(ii)
(iii)
(iv)

Correlation between phenomena at dierent scales.

Compromise between dierent dominant mechanisms.
Coupling between spatial and temporal structural changes.
Critical phenomena occurring in complex systems.

The fractal approach (Mandelbrot, 1982), as a precursor, based on the simple and compact
premise of scale-invariance, implying that the structure is similar at all scales, is a possible way
to attack multi-scale optimization. A key characteristic of fractals is self-similarity, which means
a similar structure is observed at many scales. A true mathematical fractal proceeds in this
manner ad innitum so that whatever magnication is used, smaller self-similar structures will
be observed. The fractal dimension then becomes the only parameter to optimize.
Another property of fractals is an increase of some characteristic length when increasing the
number of scales. For example, the perimeter of the channel cross-section is increased, hence
resulting in increased heat transfer area when they are applied to the design of heat exchangers.
One typical concept of a fractal heat exchanger proposed by Van der Vyver (2003) and Van der
Vyver et al. (2003) is a tube-in-tube exchanger where the inner tubes conguration was modied
with a Koch-type fractal, as shown in Figure 2. The rst picture shows the original square
n 0 on which the fractal was applied and the next three gures show the square after the
fractal was applied once n 1; twice n 2 and three times n 3: It is obvious that for a
given tube length, the heat transfer area is mathematically doubled every time when an
additional scale is added to the fractal cross-section. Thus, for n 3; the area is 23 8 times
that of the initial tube of square cross-section. As the overall heat transfer coecient also
increases with the fractal scale, the volumetric heat transfer ux would at least be doubled with
every scale addition, for the rst few additions. Nevertheless, this ux will eventually approach a
limit value, since smaller scales progressively contribute to increasing the surface roughness
rather than the heat transfer area. However, the pressure drop also increases with increasing
fractal scales. The experimental results indicate an increase of the friction factor of about 24%

Figure 2. Fractal scales of the quadratic Koch island fractal.

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Figure 3. Schedule of micro-heat sink (Chen and Cheng, 2002).

for the rst fractal scale and of 54% for the second scale, with respect to the original n 0
exchanger. As a conclusion, the heat transfer ux can be increased by increasing only the fractal
scale, at the cost of a pressure drop increase. For a specic performance, the number of fractal
scales should therefore be determined as the result of an optimization procedure.
Chen and Cheng (2002) proposed another example of a fractal tree-like micro-channel net
heat sink for cooling of electronic chips. The micro-channel net was designed to have a top and a
bottom circulation pattern in a wafer. The bottom has the same distribution of the channel net
as the top one except that the inlet and the outlet channels are pointed towards opposite
direction (Figure 3(a)). The micro-channel pattern is shown in Figure 3(b). The channel of
highest branching level k m on the top is communicated with the channel of highest
branching level on the bottom, as shown in Figure 3(c). The length, width and height of the
entrance micro-channel were 10 mm, 800 mm and 25 mm, respectively. The study showed that this
type of heat sink had better heat transfer characteristics and required less pumping power than
To determine the channel lengths of the exchanger, the authors utilize a 2-D fractal logic, in
which the fractal scaling laws are posed a priori, independently of any constraint, specication
or optimization. As a result, it does not satisfy the criterion of uniform distribution (except for
special values of the fractal dimension and the number of scales), making this conguration suboptimal. From an engineering point of view, the scale-invariance character of fractals is
inconvenient because it masks the physics underlying the changes of scales. Natural objects are
not fractals because the mechanisms that govern their formation are not the same at all scales.
Similarly, engineered objects need not be fractals because the mechanisms involved are not
necessarily the same at all scales, but also because external geometric constraints may make this
geometry impossible. A more general and more exible concept is then needed, which also
brings in the notion of engineering optimization. The fractal scale-invariance is in a sense
replaced by a constructal scale-covariance inspired by modern theories of turbulence (QueirosConde, 2003) and astrophysics (Nottale, 1993) and transposed by Bejan and Tondeur (1998)
and Bejan (2000). There is an optimal manner of organizing the scales and thus the scale number
is an additional dimension of optimization.
Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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The constructal theory developed by Bejan is based on the principle that under certain global
constraints, the best architecture of a ow system is the one that minimizes the global ow
resistances, or equivalently maximizes the global ow access (Bejan, 1997, 2000). In any ow
system (water, heat, electricity, etc.), resistances necessarily exist and cause dissipation. From an
engineering point of view, it is obviously impossible to make them vanish if one expects the
system to perform some useful nite task in a nite time. What can be done on the other hand is
to arrange the resistances (thus the dissipation) in some optimal geometric conguration so as to
maximize a performance criterion, while fullling the specied task. This can be done with a
multi-scale approach, in which one starts by optimizing the shape of a nite elementary volume,
then assembling several such volumes into a larger structure, then this larger structure into a still
larger structure, and so on until the sought macroscopic size is reached, with an optimization at
each step. In this sense, the resulting optimal conguration is deduced, not inferred.
The architecture of a constructal heat exchanger as proposed by Bejan (2002) has the ability
to pack a maximum of heat transfer area in a xed volume with the pressure drop to its
minimum. It is shown that the spacings of the elemental and rst-construct channels can be
optimized with the minimal overall pumping power required criteria. To investigate the basic
concept and the scaling law proposed by Bejan, Raja et al. (2005) studied theoretically the heat
transfer and uid ow for a constructal heat exchanger by numerical simulation. The results
show that the dendritic constructal heat exchanger can achieve a better thermal performance
compared with the conventional cross ow exchangers. Recently, the merits of using dendritic
heat exchangers are also put forward and strengthened by the researches of Da Silva et al. (2004)
and Zimparov et al. (2006).
The eorts mentioned above conrm that the constructal approach can be extended to the
generation of architecture for multi-objective systems under global constraints (Luo and
Tondeur, 2005). Here, we propose a recent evolution of this design optimization (Luo, 2001;
Luo et al., 2003), represented by Figure 4. The idea is to build an exchanger by stacking of
plates, and each plate would have a micro-channel structure optimized by constructal approach.
The topological conguration of this constructal heat exchanger simulates the vascular system
(micro-circulation of blood with macroscopic entry and exit). There are two uid circuits with
entrance and exit being the large vertical channels along the edges, respectively, in a diagonal
opposition. The large entrance channel (scale 1) of uid 1 feeds several horizontal channels
(scale 2) located in the faces of the cube. Each of the latter feeds another horizontal array (scale
3) inside the volume of the cube, and each channel of scale 3 feeds an array of vertical channels

Figure 4. Constructal micro-heat exchanger with integration of four scales.

Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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L. LUO, Y. FAN AND D. TONDEUR

(scale 4). This distribution tree then connects to a symmetrical collecting tree that ends at the
exit tube of uid 1. This whole structure repeats for uid 2, in such a way that heat may be
exchanged at all scales, but mainly at the smallest (scale 4) where the channels are smallest and
the largest interface exists between the two networks. Heat transfer takes place mostly at the
smallest scale (specic exchange surface and high coecient of heat transfer). Channel diameter
distribution at dierent scales is optimized to maximize the heat transfer for a total pressure
drop with an imposed porous volume. The concept of this heat exchanger is expected to have the
following characteristics:
*

A relatively signicant specic heat exchange surface compared to that of traditional

exchangers.
A high heat transfer coecient, as heat transfer is taking place at micro-scales and mesoscales.
An optimized, but high pressure drop equally distributed between the various scales by
constructal approach.
A modular character, allowing assembly of a macro-scale exchanger from micro-structured
modules.

Some diculties still exist. On one hand, the properties of ow distribution in such an
exchanger are still unknown. A lot of research work still needs to be done for the
equidistribution optimization. On the other hand, 3-D modelling of heat transfer for such an
exchanger requires a thorough knowledge of the hydrodynamics and profound studies on
elementary volume (smallest scale micro-channels). Finally, maintenance problems for this type
of integrated structures may become unmanageable when fouling, corrosion, deposits or other
internal perturbations are to be expected.
Polymer prototypes of this 4-scale exchanger have been manufactured by laser polymerization, experimental measured data, with dierent materials are anticipated.
Finally, we would like to introduce here the printed circuit heat exchangers (PCHEs)
developed by the HeatricTM Company (Pua and Rumbold, 2003; Dewson and Thonon, 2003),
which are one of the most well-known commercialized micro-structured heat exchangers. As the
name PCHE implies, this is a technique inspired by the manufacture of electronic printed circuit
boards. Channels with typical hydraulic diameter between 700 mm and 1.5 mm are etched out of

Figure 5. PCHE construction}plate stacking (Pua and Rumbold, 2003).

Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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HEAT EXCHANGER: FROM MICRO- TO MULTI-SCALE DESIGN OPTIMIZATION

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plates that are then diusion bonded to form building blocks (Figure 5). These PCHEs can
support pressure up to 5001000 bar and temperatures up to 9008C with a thermal eciency
always above 90%. After about 20 years of development, the PCHEs have found large-scale
applications primarily for gas treatment on oshore facilities and are adapted to new market
opportunities such as nuclear power generation plants and fuel cell systems, thus demonstrating
advantages and potential of industrial use of locally structured heat exchangers. As the smallest
characteristic dimension is millimetric rather than micrometric, the question arises if one should
call them micro-structured or if a specic term should be used, such as meso-structured. But
behind the vocabulary, the deeper question is what is the most appropriate smallest scale for a
given application.
4. CONCLUSION
In this paper, the concepts of micro-heat exchangers and micro-structured heat exchangers have
been introduced, the prex micro refers to the smallest characteristic dimension. Many studies
have been carried out on very small heat exchangers, for the purpose of illustrating
intensication. But heat exchangers with internal micro-structure need not be very small, and
can aim at large-scale industrial applications. One of the challenges is then to connect the local
micro-scales to the overall macro-scale. With some examples explored, it can be concluded that
compact, eective and dynamic micro-heat exchangers with high performances (PCHEs for
example), can now be manufactured and commercialized, representing the concept of process
intensication in dierent industrial applications. The combination of several intensication
techniques, especially based on the micro-fabrication technologies, gives the possibilities of the
realization of more compact heat exchangers with continuing thermal performance improvement. Although micro-structured heat exchangers would not replace the existing conventional
equipment, they are adaptive and eective to specic situations in accordance with their
advantages and disadvantages. They may nd niches for example, in situations requiring size
reduction, inventory reduction, short residence times, ne local control of temperatures in
priority over cost.
Multi-scale optimization methods are an eective link that connects the microscopic world to
the macroscopic world in many industrial or natural processes. Optimization can be done
according to technical, thermodynamic, and economic criteria. As to the constructal approach,
it is an emerging tool that appropriately addresses the questions of developing a multi-scale
engineering science. It hints to the idea that the scale parameters may be optimization variables
themselves. The constructal heat exchanger is a good example for potential application of the
process intensication to optimize the heat transfer with the constraint of pressure drop.
Theoretical formulation and models, such as the thermo-hydraulic correlations in microchannels and the inuence of uid maldistribution, should be proposed with the help of
numerical computer simulation. Experiments are also indispensable to verify the results
expected.
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