Mechanism on Convection

Convection - Convective Heat TransferMechanism on Convection


In thermal conduction, energy is transferred as heat either due to the migration of free electrons or lattice vibrational waves (phonons). There is no movement of mass in the direction of energy flow. Heat transfer by conduction is dependent upon the driving “force” of temperature difference. Conduction and convection are similar in that both mechanisms require the presence of a material medium (in comparison to thermal radiation). On the other hand they are different in that convection requires the presence of fluid motion.

It must be emphasized, at the surface, energy flow occurs purely by conduction, even in conduction. It is due to the fact, there is always a thin stagnant fluid film layer on the heat transfer surface. But in the next layers both conduction and diffusion-mass movement in the molecular level or macroscopic level occurs. Due to the mass movement the rate of energy transfer is higher. Higher the rate of mass movement, thinner the stagnant fluid film layer will be and higher will be the heat flow rate.

It must be noted, nucleate boiling at the surface effectively disrupts this stagnant layer and therefore nucleate boiling significantly increases the ability of a surface to transfer thermal energy to bulk fluid.

As was written, heat transfer through a fluid is by convection in the presence of mass movement and by conduction in the absence of it. Therefore, thermal conduction in a fluid can be viewed as the limiting case of convection, corresponding to the case of quiescent fluid.

Convection as a Conduction with Fluid Motion

Some experts do not consider convection to be a fundamental mechanism of heat transfer since it is essentially heat conduction in the presence of fluid motion. They consider it to be a special case of thermal conduction, known as “conduction with fluid motion”. On the other hand, it is practical to recognize convection as a separate heat transfer mechanism despite the valid arguments to the contrary.
In general, when a fluid flows over a stationary surface, e.g. the flat plate, the bed of a river, or the wall of a pipe, the fluid touching the surface is brought to rest by the shear stress to at the wall. The region in which flow adjusts from zero velocity at the wall to a maximum in the main stream of the flow is termed the boundary layer. The concept of boundary layers is of importance in all of viscous fluid dynamics and also in the theory of heat transfer.

Basic characteristics of all laminar and turbulent boundary layers are shown in the developing flow over a flat plate. The stages of the formation of the boundary layer are shown in the figure below:

Boundary layer on flat plate

Boundary layers may be either laminar, or turbulent depending on the value of the Reynolds number.

See also: Boundary Layer

thermal boundary layer - convectionSimilarly as a velocity boundary layer develops when there is fluid flow over a surface, a thermal boundary layer must develop if the bulk temperature and surface temperature differ. Consider flow over an isothermal flat plate at a constant temperature of Twall. At the leading edge the temperature profile is uniform with Tbulk. Fluid particles that come into contact with the plate achieve thermal equilibrium at the plate’s surface temperature. At this point, energy flow occurs at the surface purely by conduction. These particles exchange energy with those in the adjoining fluid layer (by conduction and diffusion), and temperature gradients develop in the fluid. The region of the fluid in which these temperature gradients exist is the thermal boundary layer. Its thickness, δt, is typically defined as the distance from the body at which the temperature is 99% of the temperature found from an inviscid solution. With increasing distance from the leading edge, the effects of heat transfer penetrate farther into the stream and the thermal boundary layer grows.

Prandtl Number - materialsThe ratio of these two thicknesses (velocity and thermal boundary layers) is governed by the Prandtl number, which is defined as the ratio of momentum diffusivity to thermal diffusivity. A Prandtl number of unity indicates that momentum and thermal diffusivity are comparable, and velocity and thermal boundary layers almost coincide with each other. If the Prandtl number is less than 1, which is the case for air at standard conditions, the thermal boundary layer is thicker than the velocity boundary layer. If the Prandtl number is greater than 1, the thermal boundary layer is thinner than the velocity boundary layer. Air at room temperature has a Prandtl number of 0.71 and for water at 18°C it is around 7.56, which means that the thermal diffusivity is more dominant for air than for water.

Similarly as for Prandtl Number, the Lewis number physically relates the relative thickness of the thermal layer and mass-transfer (concentration) boundary layer. The Schmidt number physically relates the relative thickness of the velocity boundary layer and mass-transfer (concentration) boundary layer.

Lewis Number - Prandtl Number - Schmidt Number

where n = 1/3  for most applications in all three relations. These relations, in general, are applicable only for laminar flow and are not applicable to turbulent boundary layers since turbulent mixing in this case may dominate the diffusion processes.

laminar sublayer - convectionHeat transfer by convection is more difficult to analyze than heat transfer by conduction because no single property of the heat transfer medium, such as thermal conductivity, can be defined to describe the mechanism. Convective heat transfer is complicated by the fact that it involves fluid motion as well as heat conduction. Heat transfer by convection varies from situation to situation (upon the fluid flow conditions), and it is frequently coupled with the mode of fluid flow. In forced convection, the rate of heat transfer through a fluid is much higher by convection than it is by conduction.

In practice, analysis of heat transfer by convection is treated empirically (by direct experimental observation). Most of problems can be solved using so called characteristic numbers (e.g. Nusselt number). Characteristic numbers are dimensionless numbers used to describe a character of heat transfer and can be used to compare a real situation (e.g. heat transfer in a pipe) with a small-scale model. Experience shows that convection heat transfer strongly depends on the fluid properties dynamic viscosity, thermal conductivity, density, and specific heat, as well as the fluid velocity. It also depends on the geometry and the roughness of the solid surface, in addition to the type of fluid flow. All these conditions affect especially the stagnant film thickness.

Convection involves the transfer of heat between a surface at a given temperature (Twall) and fluid at a bulk temperature (Tb). The exact definition of the bulk temperature (Tb) varies depending on the details of the situation.

  • For flow adjacent to a hot or cold surface, Tb is the temperature of the fluid “far” from the surface.
  • For boiling or condensation, Tb is the saturation temperature of the fluid.
  • For flow in a pipe, Tb is the average temperature measured at a particular cross-section of the pipe.
Heat Transfer:

  1. Fundamentals of Heat and Mass Transfer, 7th Edition. Theodore L. Bergman, Adrienne S. Lavine, Frank P. Incropera. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2011. ISBN: 9781118137253.
  2. Heat and Mass Transfer. Yunus A. Cengel. McGraw-Hill Education, 2011. ISBN: 9780071077866.
  3. Fundamentals of Heat and Mass Transfer. C. P. Kothandaraman. New Age International, 2006, ISBN: 9788122417722.
  4. U.S. Department of Energy, Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer and Fluid Flow. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 2 of 3. May 2016.

Nuclear and Reactor Physics:

  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
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  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
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  8. U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.
  9. Paul Reuss, Neutron Physics. EDP Sciences, 2008. ISBN: 978-2759800414.

Advanced Reactor Physics:

  1. K. O. Ott, W. A. Bezella, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Statics, American Nuclear Society, Revised edition (1989), 1989, ISBN: 0-894-48033-2.
  2. K. O. Ott, R. J. Neuhold, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Dynamics, American Nuclear Society, 1985, ISBN: 0-894-48029-4.
  3. D. L. Hetrick, Dynamics of Nuclear Reactors, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48453-2. 
  4. E. E. Lewis, W. F. Miller, Computational Methods of Neutron Transport, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48452-4.

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