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Published online 13 February 2007 in Wiley InterScience

(www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/er.1298

design optimization

Lingai Luo1,*,y, Yilin Fan1 and Daniel Tondeur2

1

2

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:

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 m3), 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 m3 (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

Revised 30 November 2006

Accepted 11 December 2006

1267

By introducing the surface area density a in the specic heat exchanger performance equation,

the volumetric heat transfer power P=V (W m3) can be expressed as follows:

P FUADTm FUaVDTm

P

aFUDTm

V

Here, U, DTm and F refer to the overall heat transfer coecient (W m2 K1), 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).

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 m3, 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 m2 K1 and a volumetric power per unit

temperature dierence of 300 MW m3 K1 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

1268

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 m3.

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 m2 K1 and a volumetric power per unit temperature dierence of

315 MW m3 K1, with a ow rate of 115 103 m3 min1. 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

10 103 m3 min1. 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.

DOI: 10.1002/er

1269

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)

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%

Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

DOI: 10.1002/er

1270

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

traditional parallel nets.

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.

DOI: 10.1002/er

1271

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

Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

DOI: 10.1002/er

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(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:

*

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

Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

DOI: 10.1002/er

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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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