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Chapter 1 Mass Transfer

Organization, Introduction, Brownian Diffusion

Dr. Wegner Dr. Büchel
Max Eggersdorfer

Davide Dr. Yoon Dr. Güntner Pascal Jan Nicolay Sebastian

Two mandatory tests (30%)

Mass Transfer – Introduction, Brownian Diffusion 1-1

E.L. Cussler, “Diffusion, Mass Transfer in Fluid Systems”

2nd edition, 1997, Cambridge University Press
3rd edition, 2009, Cambridge University Press

2 TESTS of 45 min.

October 24
(2009) (1997)
November 28
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1. Introduction
What is mass transfer?
Oxford Dictionary:

Why does one substance move through or into another?

How large is the driving force?
How fast does it move?
How far does it move?
How much of a substance moves?

Why do we care?
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1. Introduction
The driving force for mass transfer is a difference in chemical
potential. A substance moves from high to low chemical potential,
for example:

Tea from a tea bag in hot water

travels from high concentration to low concentration.

The mass transfer process is a slow, rate limiting step that:

• Limits efficiency of commercial distillations.

• Limits rate of industrial reactions with catalysts.
• Influences corrosion of metals and marbles.
• Controls the growth of microorganisms.

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Combustion a reaction-diffusion process

Cylindrical flame from above:

The temperature of the flame is lower
in the dark regions.

Oxygen and fuel (hydrocarbon)

diffuse with different speeds

Increasing gas feed rate forms

increasingly complex patterns

Photos: El-Hamdi, Michael Gorman, University of Houston,

Texas (1994)
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Examples from nature with diffusion limitations

Mineral dendrites of manganese in limestone

Computer simulations of
diffusion-limited agglomeration

Recommended reading:
Philip Ball «Shapes: Nature’s Patterns»
Mass Transfer – Introduction, Brownian Diffusion 1-6
Crystallization Pharmaceuticals

Naillon, Joseph, Prat, J. Crystal Growth (2017)

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Particle diffusion > evaporation

Particle diffusion < evaporation

Vehring, Foss, Lechuga-Ballesteros, J. Aerosol Sci. (2007) 728-746


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Types of Mass Transfer:
1. Molecular diffusion (or just diffusion).
Mass is transferred by the random motion of molecules across
a concentration gradient. Sometimes, but not always, this is
similar to heat transfer by conduction.

2. Eddy diffusion (mixing or dispersion or agitation).

Mass is transferred by finite parcels of fluids as in momentum
and heat transfer.

Approximate rates of diffusion in:

Gases: 10 cm/min (a lady with a nice perfume).
Liquids: 0.05 cm/min (stir cream into the coffee).
Solids: 0.00001 cm/min (takes long to rust an iron axe)

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Relationship with Momentum and Heat Transfer
Mass transfer is similar to momentum and heat transfer but there
is nothing equivalent to radiation heat transfer.

Molecular diffusion easily gives rise to convection something that

was not so with conduction heat transfer. This is distinguished by
talking about diffusion at low and high concentrations.

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Description of Mass Transfer

1. Molecular model (Fick’s laws and diffusivity).

This is an elegant model based on first principles that
everyone dreams of having to work with especially in physics,
physical chemistry and biology.

2. Mass transfer coefficient model (Mass Transfer correlations)

This is a model typically employed by chemical and process
engineers when the complexity of the process leaves little
space for elegance.

The choice between models is a compromise between ambition and


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Example for Models
Imagine two large bulbs with equal volume connected by a long
thin capillary at constant temperature.
2 N2

Measure now the

CO2 concentration area
inside the bulb
containing nitrogen. 1 CO2

Goal: To determine physical properties that determine the amount

of mass transferred.

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amount of gas from 1 to 2 N2
Define the flux: CO2 flux 
time  area
This removes the influence of a particular apparatus.

Model 2: Recognize that the CO2 flux is proportional to CO2 CO2

concentration difference between 1 and 2. 1

CO2 flux  k  (CO2 concentration difference)

k is a mass transfer coefficient and this is the mass transfer coefficient model.

Model 1: Recognize that increasing the length of the capillary will

decrease the flux.
concentration difference
CO2 flux  D
capillary length
D is the diffusion coefficient and this is the other model or Fick’s first law.

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This is similar to electric circuits, Ohm’s law:

 current   voltage 
  1  
 or = ×
 resistance  or 
 area × flux of electrons   potential difference 
   

Thus the mass transfer coefficient k is analogous to the reciprocal

of the resistance.

An alternative form to Ohm’s law is:

 current density 
  1  potential difference 
 or  = resistivity ×  
 flux of electrons   length 
 
The diffusion coefficient D is analogous to the reciprocal of resistivity.
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In heat transfer k is analogous to the heat transfer coefficient h,
while D is analogous to thermal conductivity l.
Neither the k-model nor the D-model are always successful as
they depend heavily on assumptions made in their development.
For example: The flux  CO2 concentration difference if the capillary
is too thin or if the gases react.
Similarly Ohm’s law is not always valid at very high voltages.
However, both Fick’s and Ohm’s law work well in most practical uses.
Resistance or resistivity give a clue about the choice of the 2 models:
Using the resistance is good for practical applications & rough
measurements. In contrast, resistivity is a fundamental material

We start with the fundamental description of the diffusion coefficient,

the D-model, following with the description of the k-model later on.
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