Heat transfer to or from a fluid flowing through a tube

R. Shankar Subramanian
A common situation encountered by the chemical engineer is heat transfer to fluid flowing through a tube. This can occur in heat exchangers, boilers, condensers, evaporators, and a host of other process equipment. Therefore, it is useful to know how to estimate heat transfer coefficients in this situation. We can classify the flow of a fluid in a straight circular tube into either laminar or turbulent flow. It is assumed from hereon that we assume fully developed incompressible, Newtonian, steady flow conditions. Fully developed flow implies that the tube is long compared with the entrance length in which the velocity distribution at the inlet adjusts itself to the geometry and no longer changes with distance along the tube. Reynolds number The value of the Reynolds number permits us to determine whether the flow is laminar or turbulent. We define the Reynolds number as follows. Reynolds number Re =
DV ρ





Here, D is the inside diameter of the tube (or pipe), V is the average velocity of the fluid, ρ is the density of the fluid and μ is its dynamic viscosity. It is common to use the kinematic viscosity ν = μ / ρ in defining the Reynolds number. Another common form involves using the mass flow rate m instead of the average velocity. The mass flow rate is related to the volumetric flow rate Q via m = ρ Q , and we can write Q = can be defined as
Re = 4m πμ D



D 2V . Therefore, the Reynolds number also

The flow in a commercial circular tube or pipe is usually laminar when the Reynolds number is below 2,300. In the range 2,300 < Re < 4, 000 , the status of the flow is in transition and for Re > 4, 000 , flow can be regarded as turbulent. Results for heat transfer in the transition regime are difficult to predict, and it is best to avoid this regime in designing heat exchange equipment. By the way, turbulent flow is inherently unsteady, being characterized by time-dependent fluctuations in the velocity and pressure, but we usually average over these fluctuations and define time-smoothed or time-average velocity and pressure; these time-smoothed entities can be steady or time-dependent (on a time scale much larger than that of the fluctuations), and here we only focus on steady conditions when we discuss either laminar or turbulent flow.


Therefore. to take advantage of relatively high heat transfer rates that are achievable in the thermal entrance region. and the directions that lie in a plane perpendicular to the tube axis. In the case of turbulent flow. In that plane. which is the ratio of the tube length to its diameter. the correlations are usually written in the form Nu = f ( Re. The principal difference between laminar and turbulent flow. The ellipses in the right side of the above result stand for additional dimensionless groups such as L / D . h is the heat transfer coefficient. and normally a laminar flow heat exchanger is designed to be short. based on experimental results.Principal differences between heat transfer in laminar flow and that in turbulent flow In discussing heat transfer to or from a fluid flowing through a straight circular tube. are typically divided into those applicable in the thermal entrance region. and Pr = is the Prandtl = k α k number.” This region is relatively short in turbulent flow (precisely because of the intense turbulent transverse transport of energy). turbulent heat transfer correlations are commonly provided for the latter region. From dimensional analysis. Laminar heat transfer correlations A variety of correlations are in use for predicting heat transfer rates in laminar flow. As we noted before. whereas it tends to be long in laminar flow. as far as heat transfer is concerned. 2 . and other groups that we’ll discuss as they occur. This is commonly termed “eddy transport” and is intense. providing much better transfer of energy across the flow at a given axial position than in laminar flow. k is the thermal conductivity of the fluid. it is useful to distinguish between the axial or main flow direction. is that an additional mechanism of heat transfer in the radial and azimuthal directions becomes available in turbulent flow. the thermal entrance region is short. and typically heat transfer occurs mostly in the “fully developed” region. and those that apply in the “fully developed” region. as noted earlier. Another difference worthwhile noting is the extent of the “thermal entrance region” in which the transverse temperature distribution becomes “fully developed. f is some function.") μC p ν hD is the Nusselt number. such as in coiled tubes). As you can see. efficient heat transfer in laminar flow occurs in the thermal entrance region. Here. In the case of laminar flow. it is important to be aware of this distinction. Pr. Heat transfer correlations. the Prandtl number can where Nu = be written as the ratio of the kinematic viscosity ν to the thermal diffusivity of the fluid α . wherein conduction is typically the only mechanism that operates in the transverse directions (an exception occurs when there are secondary flows in the transverse direction. transverse heat flow can be broken into radial and azimuthal components. and C p is the specific heat of the fluid at constant pressure. A reasonable correlation for the Nusselt number was provided by Sieder and Tate.

or it may vary along the length of the tube. μb appears in the above laminar flow heat transfer correlation. Nu → 3.14 = 1.86 ( Re Pr ) 1/ 3 ⎛ D ⎞ ⎛ μb ⎞ ⎟ ⎜ ⎟ ⎜ ⎝ L ⎠ ⎝ μw ⎠ 1/ 3 0. Because the exponent (0. the Peclet number tells us the relative importance of convective transport of thermal energy when compared with molecular transport of thermal energy (conduction). the relative importance of convective transport of momentum compared with molecular transport of momentum.86 Re 1/ 3 Pr 1/ 3 ⎛ D ⎞ ⎛ μb ⎞ ⎟ ⎜ ⎟ ⎜ ⎝ L ⎠ ⎝ μw ⎠ 1/ 3 0. In all cases. but in this case we already know the heat flux and a heat transfer coefficient is not needed. the Nusselt number is nearly a constant independent of any of the above parameters.66 . Notice that a ratio The Reynolds and Prandtl numbers are raised to the same power in the laminar flow correlation.36 . the Nusselt number decreases as L−1/ 3 . we can use an arithmetic value of the average between the extreme values that occur in the system.14 where we have introduced a new group Pe called the Peclet number. In long tubes. In the case of uniform wall flux. Pe = Re Pr = DV ν ν α = DV α The Peclet number Pe plays a role in heat transfer that is similar to that of the Reynolds number in fluid mechanics. This is because the Sieder-Tate correlation only applies in the thermal entrance region. 3 . imply that the Nusselt number approaches zero as the length becomes large. Therefore. however. We know that the bulk temperature of the fluid will change along the tube. Nu → 4. and specific heat. In fact. the effect of this term on the Nusselt number is not large – it is only a small correction.14 You can see that as the length of the tube increases. thermal conductivity. we can write the correlation as Nu = 1. Thus. we should estimate values at the average temperature of the fluid between the inlet and outlet. we can use an energy balance directly to infer the way in which the bulk average temperature of the fluid changes with distance along the axial direction. This does not. and this averaging is quite justified. Recall that the physical significance of the Reynolds number is that it represents the ratio of inertial forces to viscous forces in the flow.” respectively. If instead the flux of heat at the wall is uniform. Remember that the purpose of using a heat transfer coefficient is to calculate the heat flux between the wall and the fluid.Nu = 1. for all the other physical properties such as density.14) is small. The wall temperature may be constant. We have μw defined μ as the viscosity of the fluid. The subscripts “b” and “w” stand for “bulk” and “wall. When the boundary condition at the wall is that of uniform wall temperature.86 ( Pe ) 1/ 3 ⎛ D ⎞ ⎛ μb ⎞ ⎟ ⎜ ⎟ ⎜ ⎝ L ⎠ ⎝ μw ⎠ 1/ 3 0. or equivalently. wherein most of the heat transfer occurs in the thermally fully-developed region.

D L = 3. we use correlations for fully developed conditions. Denny.66 .66 + 2/3 D⎞ ⎛ 1 + 0. Therefore. Nuaverage → 3. which is the result for a uniform wall temperature when the temperature field is fully developed. Thus.5 is 4 . the thermal entrance length can be estimated from Leh ≈ 0. if the velocity profile in laminar flow is fully developed and we then apply a uniform wall temperature boundary condition. The textbook also provides useful information about entrance lengths. McAdams. and Colburn.The author of the textbook recommends the following laminar flow heat transfer correlation from a book by D.065 Re Pr Nuaverage = haverage D k Unlike the correlation of Sieder and Tate. this result can be used for short or long tubes.05 Re Likewise. Note that as the length becomes very large. because of the additional transport mechanism across the cross section. the problem is more involved. the hydrodynamic entrance length Lef for the friction factor to decrease to within 5% of its value for fully developed laminar flow conditions is given as Lef D ≈ 0. Smooth tubes The earliest correlations for turbulent heat transfer in a smooth tube are due to Dittus and Boelter.K. V. Edwards. and the thermal entrance lengths are even smaller. D Correlations for turbulent flow are classified based on whether the interior wall of the tube is smooth or whether it is rough. Mills for the average Nusselt number for a tube of length L . and A.04 ⎜ Re Pr ⎟ L⎠ ⎝ 0.033 Re Pr D When both the velocity and temperature fields develop with distance simultaneously. For example. Turbulent flow The entrance lengths are much shorter for turbulent flows. typical hydrodynamic entrance lengths in turbulent flow are 10-15 tube diameters.E. for L most engineering situations wherein ≥ 50 .F. A common form to be used for fluids with Pr > 0.

roughness of the interior surface is inevitable.9 + ⎜ ⎟ ⎝8⎠ 1/ 2 St = ⎡ g ( h + .4 The usual recommendation is to use this correlation for Re > 10. Of course. A modern correlation that is slightly more accurate is recommended in the textbook for your use. Physical properties to be used in these correlations are evaluated at the average of the inlet and exit temperatures of the fluid. Rough tubes and pipes In the case of commercial pipes. and you can use Petukhov’s formula for evaluating it.65⎤ ⎣ ⎦ where the friction factor f is calculated using 5 .1.023 Re0. but there are no fluids with that precise value of the Prandtl number.790 ln ( Re ) − 1.8 Pr 0.7. The extent of roughness depends on the nature of the surface.Nu = 0. The friction factor f is the Darcy friction factor. Pr ) − 7.7 ( f / 8 ) ( Pr 2 / 3 − 1) Mills suggests using this correlation for Reynolds numbers between 3. f = 1 ⎡ ⎣ 0. 000 . St = = Re Pr Pe f 8 ⎛ f ⎞ 0.000 and 106 . Mills provides a discussion of heat transfer in turbulent flow in rough pipes in Section 4.64 ⎤ ⎦ 2 This result is good for turbulent flow in smooth pipes for Re ≤ 5 × 106 . it should not be used if Pr = 1 . The heat transfer rate is predicted in this case by using a group called the Stanton number Nu Nu . but in practice it is used even when the flow is in transition between laminar and turbulent flow for lack of better correlations. whereas drawn tubes tend to be less rough. the textbook provides special correlations to be used for uniform wall temperature and uniform wall flux boundary conditions. 000 ) Pr 1/ 2 1 + 12. Nu = ( f / 8 )( Re− 1. For low Prandtl number liquid metals.

we use the concept of hydraulic diameter Dh .4 ⎣ 7.5 for a variety of cross-sections.51) of the text. and Mills uses the symbol ub to denote this quantity in Equation (4.140a).4 ⎦⎭ ⎩ −2 In the above correlations. and P = π D . A = 4 flow in non-circular cross-sections. but you will first need to convert h to h + which is dimensionless. For equivalent sand grain roughness. we can use h = ks . ks is known as the “equivalent sand grain roughness” textbook. so that the above definition yields Dh = D . Values of ks for a variety of pipes.9.140a).02 13 ⎞ ⎤ ⎫ ⎛k /R − + f = ⎨−2. The symbol h stands for the average height of protrusions from the surface. rectangular.8 in the The function g ( h + . Non-circular cross-sections To handle non-circular cross-sections such as annular. Results for fully developed heat transfer in laminar flow are given in Table 4. and the like. Pr ) is tabulated in Table 4. tubes. and other types of surfaces can be found in Table 4. The hydraulic diameter is used in place of the diameter in these correlations. For a pipe.0 log10 ⎢ s log10 ⎜ s ⎟ ⎬ Re Re ⎠ ⎥ ⎝ 7.⎧ ⎡k / R 5. k + s Vk s ⎛ f ⎞ = ⎟ ν ⎜ ⎝8⎠ 1/ 2 so that h+ = Vh ⎛ f ⎞ ⎟ ν ⎜ ⎝8⎠ 1/ 2 Recall that V is the average velocity of flow. This is defined as Dh = 4A P where A is the cross-sectional area and P is the wetted perimeter. 6 . For a circular tube of π D2 . For turbulent diameter D . For example. we can use the correlations for circular tubes. and a correlation for flow between parallel plates is given in Equation (4. The symbol R represents the inside radius of the pipe. triangular. the relationship between the dimensionless quantities (+ variables) and the physical variables is given in Equation (4.

6. an arithmetic average between the inlet and the outlet is to be used.2. Mills discusses how to accommodate property variations at the end of Section 4. ⎝ Tb ⎠ m n n m 7 . and if the surface temperature varies from the inlet to the outlet. the correction factor for the Nusselt number is ⎜ s ⎟ and that for the ⎝ Tb ⎠ ⎛T ⎞ friction factor is ⎜ s ⎟ . The approach is different for liquids and gases.Physical property variations The Sieder-Tate correlation for laminar flow contains a correction for the variation of viscosity with temperature. is a viscosity ratio ⎛ μs ⎞ ⎜ ⎟ . Likewise. For liquids. the friction factor correction is made by multiplying the value obtained using bulk ⎛μ ⎞ average temperatures by ⎜ s ⎟ . wherein the subscripts s and b refer to the surface and bulk. The other correlations given here do not contain an explicit correction. In the case of ⎝ μb ⎠ the bulk. This factor. a correction is made to the value of the friction factor and that of the Nusselt number by multiplying the values calculated from the correlation using the bulk fluid properties (evaluated at an arithmetic average temperature between the inlet and outlet temperatures for the stream) by a suitable factor. on page 300. for the Nusselt number correction. an arithmetic average is to be used as well. ⎛T ⎞ In the case of gases. respectively. Suitable values for use in these corrections are given in Table ⎝ μb ⎠ 4.

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