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Int. J. Chem. React. Eng.

2016; aop

Thomas Barthram* and Carlos I. Rivera-Solorio

Experimental and Computational Analysis

of Single Phase Flow Coiled Flow Inverter
Focusing on Number of Transfer Units
and Effectiveness
1 Introduction

DOI 10.1515/ijcre-2015-0218

Abstract: The coiled flow inverter (CFI) is an enhanced heat

exchanger. This device uses the principle of flow inversion
to increase heat transfer and has potential for industrial
applications. A mathematical model based on experimental
and numerical data was developed for the case of single
phase flow with water as working fluids. This model
includes (-NTU) Effectiveness Number of Transfer Units
curves, Nusselt correlations, for this specific neither parallel
nor counter flow setup. A range of Reynolds numbers from
2,000 to 18,000 in the tube side, and 500 to 2,000 in the
shell side was considered. The coiled ow inverter is made
of coils and 90 bends, inserted in a closed shell. The shell
side is cylindrical. The average temperatures at input and
output of the heat exchanger were reported for different tube
and shell side ow rates. Overall heat-transfer coefficients
(Uf) were calculated as well as the Number of Transfer Units
(NTU) and Effectiveness () at various process conditions. A
Nusselt correlation was proposed for the shell side of this
configuration. The -NTU curves of the selected heat exchanger have a high resemblance to the parallel flow tube heat
exchanger, with a maximum of 2.1 % error. The coiled flow
inverter has increases of 200 %, 300 % and 500 %, respectively for effectiveness, number of transfer units and overall
heat transfer coefficient compared to a regular parallel flow
heat exchanger at the same conditions. Correlations for the
CFI in its shell were proposed. This heat exchanger provides
higher Uf, reduces cumbersomeness and length of piping.
Keywords: coiled ow inverter (CFI), coiled tube, bends,
heat exchanger, CFD, effectiveness, NTU

*Corresponding author: Thomas Barthram, Tecnologico de

Monterrey, School of Engineering and Science, Monterrey, Mxico,
Carlos I. Rivera-Solorio, Tecnologico de Monterrey, School of
Engineering and Science, Monterrey, Mxico,

Enhancement of heat transfer is essential in most of the

industrial fields. A method to be able to control the temperature in a certain area or component is via the use of heat
exchangers. The consequences of improper heat-transfer
include non-reproducible processing conditions and lowered product quality (Kumar et al. 2007), resulting in the
need for more elaborate down- stream process system and
increased heat-transfer area. The miniaturization of heat
exchangers and increase in efficiency to reduce costs is of
upmost importance, which would become optimization of
energy resources. There are two main ways to increase heat
transfer, the first one being materials which can be the fluid,
for example nanofluids (Lomascolo et al. 2015), the walls
materials. The second one being the geometry, which
includes roughness, interferences in flow path to increase
turbulence or mixing of the fluid, for example, using rotors
(Lin et al. 2011). The coiled flow inverter is a patented heat
exchanger US 733835 B2, this one focuses on the use of
spirals which are considered to have higher heat transfer
per unit of surface area compared to straight heat exchangers (Kumar et al. 2006).
When a fluid flows through a curved pipe it is observed
that a secondary flow occurs in planes perpendicular to the
central axis of the pipe (Kumar and Nigam, 2005). The
secondary flow arises due to the centrifugally induced pressure gradient, which drives the faster-moving fluid from the
core outwards to the wall. Then, to satisfy the continuity,
the low momentum fluid subject to the no-slip condition at
the wall moves toward the inner wall of the curved tube
(Agrawal and Jayaraman, 1994; Eustice, 1911). In order to be
able to visualize the phenomenon, the secondary flow can
be seen as consisting of a pair of counter-rotating helical
vortices (called Dean Vortices) placed symmetrically with
respect to the plane of symmetry.
It was observed that, as the Dean number is increased,
the centers of the two vortices move to the outer bend, and
there is a considerable reduction of the flow in the curved
pipe compared with a straight pipe. Similarly, for low values

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T. Barthram and C. I. Rivera-Solorio: Experimental and Computational Analysis of Single Phase Flow

of curvature ratios, the secondary flow intensity is very high

while for higher values of curvature ratio it decreases
(Dean, 1927; Di Liberto et al. 2013). Further experiments
have also confirmed that the flow in curved pipes is
more stable than that in a straight tube, due to the secondary flow. This results in laminar flow at higher Reynolds
number, than the straight tubes (Hon, Humphrey, and
Champagne 1999; Taylor, 1929).
Studies have involved the coiled flow inverter, these
mainly conducted by Dr Nigam et al. Research performed
as a heat exchanger (Kumar et al. 2007), where the
experimental heat transfer characteristics and correlations of the coiled flow inverter (CFI) were defined. The
coiled flow inverter increases heat transfer of 25 % for
flows from 1,000 to 16,000 Reynolds compared to a
coiled tube. It is also noted that at high Reynolds the
heat transfer has less effects. Its pressure drop in single
and two phase flow were also investigated experimentally (Vashisth and Nigam, 2007). The coiled flow inverter
has an increase in pressure drop compared to straight
tubes and helix by a factor of 2.53. The numerical simulation of steady flow fields in coiled flow inverter (Kumar
and Nigam, 2005) showed an increase in heat transfer of
2030 % whereas the pressure drop only increased 56 %
compared to a helix. A numerical study regarding turbulent forced convection in the coiled flow inverter (Mridha
and Nigam, 2008), found that the heat transfer increases
of 3545 % and pressure drop of 2930 % compared to a
straight tube for the same flow configurations. Low
Reynolds numbers in the coiled flow inverter are also
investigated numerically with nanoparticles ranging
from 0.25 to 4 % volume fraction (Singh, Kockmann,
and Nigam 2014). The Nusselt number in the helical
coil augments 2.5 times compared to the straight tube,
and in the CFI increases of 2530 % compared to the
helical coil. Correlations were developed to predict the
friction factor and Nusselt number in the CFI. An experimental investigation comparing the CFI with, (PHE) plate
type heat exchanger and, (SHE) shell and tube heat
exchanger (Mandal, Kumar, and Nigam 2010), resulted
in the number of transfer units (NTU) increasing of
3.57.5, and 22.5 respectively compared to SHE and
PHE. Nusselt and pressure drop correlations of the coiled
flow inverter were developed. Research has also been
undertaken using the CFI as a plug flow reactor for continuous refolding process (Sharma et al. 2016). The setup
was 15 times more productive in terms of reactor specific
productivity compared to the batch process, due to elimination of stops, cleanups and fillings. The enhanced
mixing in CFI can handle higher protein concentrations
and deliver similar purities to the batch process. Liquid-

liquid extraction with microstructured CFI has been studied (Kurt et al. 2016), mass transfer is investigated by
generating slug ow pattern. The extraction is increased
by 20 % compared to the straight capillaries at constant
contact time. A pilot plant for effective heat transfer area
in CFI has been studied with different amount of banks
(Singh and Nigam, 2016). It is noted that with more banks
higher NTUs are reached, the overall heat transfer coefficient is in good agreement with the different models.
A milli-scale coiled flow inverter has been used in combination with phase separator for continuous flow liquidliquid extraction process (Vural Grsel et al., 2016). It is
noted that in that configuration the mass flow rate does
not have much effect on the slug size. The extraction
efficiency of the CFI is higher than the straight tube.
Several studies have involved the CFI, however few
have focused on characterizing its behavior as a heat
exchanger. Developing correlations in terms of these
parameters such as , NTU units and Nusselt number
may provide relevant information for the design and
implementation of this device in industrial applications.
The aim of the present work is to characterize the thermal
performance of a coiled ow inverter (CFI) as a heat
exchanger for a waterwater single phase ow system,
experimentally and numerically at laboratory scale, using
the Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software
Fluent. The effect of the uid ow rate on the heat
transfer and the overall heat transfer coefficients were
studied in the tube, as well as in the shell side of the
heat exchanger. In the present work, bent coils were
considered as tube side, which is inserted into a cylindrical shell. From this, it was possible to determine the NTU curves for the given setup, and provide a study of
heat transfer for different relations of mass flow heat

2 Experimental and numerical

2.1 Experimental
The purpose of the experimental part of the study is to
determine the -NTU of a heat exchanger comprised of a
coiled flow inverter and cylindrical shell. The studied
heat exchanger is shown in Figure 1.
The tube side is made of 4.3 m of 3/8 inch flexible
copper tube, which equals to 7.91 mm interior and
9.53 mm exterior diameter. The pitch of the coils is of

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T. Barthram and C. I. Rivera-Solorio: Experimental and Computational Analysis of Single Phase Flow

This bench uses two circuits, a hot fluid in the shell side and
a cold circuit in the tube side of the heat exchanger. The
temperature acquisition was done at the input and output of
the coiled flow inverter. The Table 1 shows the different
components used in the experimental part.

Table 1: Experimental components description.

Figure 1: Experimental coiled flow inverter in shell.

15 mm and the coil diameter is of 92.5 mm (these measures can be seen on Figure 2). This inserted in a 350 mm
diameter and 160 mm deep shell.

Component Description


Hot circuit

, W, L tank
Up to lpm
Type K

Tank with heating resistance

Centrifugal pump
Temperature acquisition
Flow meter

Heat transfer between circuits

Coiled flow inverter

Shell hot circuit tube

cold circuit

Cold circuit

Forced convection heat

Spiral heat exchanger


Compression chiller


Cold tank
Centrifugal pump
Temperature acquisition

Car radiator
Heat exchanger
between chiller and
cold circuit
Cooling capacity .
L tank
Up to lpmpm
Type K

Figure 2: Dimensions of CFI.

Straight tubes were added at the input of the CFI with

sufficient length to permit the hydrodynamic and thermal
profiles to develop.

2.1.1 Experimental setup

The Figure 3 shows the experimental setup of the coiled flow
inverter in the test bench and its instrumentations points.

2.2 Operating conditions

The operating conditions employed in the experiments
and simulations of the CFI are shown in Table 2. In the
first place both heat capacity flow ratio were fixed. The
ratio of these two was of 1, 0.75, 0.5, 0.25.
The flows were selected using the physical limitations
of the equipment. The maximum pumps flow being 7 lpm.
The heater capacity of 1.8 kW, the chillers capacity

Figure 3: Experimental setup

and components.

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T. Barthram and C. I. Rivera-Solorio: Experimental and Computational Analysis of Single Phase Flow

Table 2: Flow setups.


From there calculate the maximum rate of heat transfer

(S. S. G. 2010):

Cold flow CFI Hot flow shell


st set
nd set
rd set
th set
th set
th set
th set


Q_ max = Cmin Th, i Tc, i


And finally calculate the effectiveness of the heat exchanger.


of 1.2 kW and a convective heat exchanger added to

increase cooling capacity did not suffice to have stable
temperatures at maximum flows. Energy balance was
used as acceptance criterion for the experiments (Kumar
et al. 2007), this one must be inferior to 5 %. Having
unstable input and output would affect NTU and effectiveness uncertainties. Therefore only low flows were used.
The inlet CFI temperature is constant, at each experiment the temperature at the shells inlet is increased for a
certain flow heat capacity ratio.
Seen that are available the inlet, outlet temperatures
and the flow rates, it is possible to calculate the input
and output energies. The eqs (1) to (11) represent a
method used to calculate the effectiveness and NTU of
the heat exchanger.
_ h *Cp, h *Th, i Th, o
= Q_ h = m
_ = Q_ c = m
_ c *Cp, c *Tc, o Tc, i

_Q max Q_ max


Using the logarithmic mean temperature difference

(lmtd), it is possible to extract the global heat transfer
coefficient. Neither being in a configuration of counter
flow nor parallel flow, it was decided to use the counter
flow configuration for the logarithmic mean temperature
difference, as it was used by Kumar et al. (2007). This
equation is shown in eq. (7) to (9)
T1 = Th, i Tc, o


T2 = Th, o Tc, i


Tlmtd =

T1 T2

Ln T2


Finally the overall heat transfer coefficient including correction factor can be determined as in eq. (10)
Uf =

Al *Tlmtd


From there on, it is possible to extract the number of

transfer units.


It is also possible to calculate the minimum heat capacity

rate Cmin using:

_ h *Cp, h and Cc = m
_ c *Cp, c
Ch = m


Uf *Al


Using the previous method it is possible to graph the

effectiveness () of the CFI against its NTU, compare the
experimental case to literature and numerical results.


2.3 Mesh generation

And therefore:


Cc if Cc < Ch
Ch if Ch < Cc


Figure 4 shows the model developed for these simulations. This one represents the CAD model of the CFI in its

Figure 4: CAD modeled CFI and shell.

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T. Barthram and C. I. Rivera-Solorio: Experimental and Computational Analysis of Single Phase Flow

2.4 Governing equations

The flow was considered to be incompressible, steady,
and constant thermal properties were assumed. The
NavierStokes and energy governing equations for incompressible flow in a coiled and shell configuration (Saxena
and Nigam, 1984) are given below.
Mass balance equation:


Momentum Balance Equation:


Figure 5: Mesh of the heat exchanger.

xj xj


Energy equation:
shell from Figure 1. The mesh is shown in Figure 5, this
one composed of tetrahedral elements. The heat exchanger mesh has more than 2.9 million numerical elements
that were divided in 3 meshed volumes: the fluid in shell,
the tube (CFI), and the fluid in the CFI. The support tube
was not meshed as a volume, just its outer surface used
as a wall.
Different mesh sizes were tested to find an optimum
between computational time and precision. These ones
contained 2.7, 2.9 and 3.2 million elements (Table 3), the
skewness were below 0.3 for both last meshes and above
for the 2.7 million element mesh. Meshes elaborated
under 2.7 million elements had elements overlap due to
the complex geometry, therefore the simulations could
not be run. Setting the three models at the same conditions of inlet velocity and input temperatures the following output temperatures were calculated (Table 3).
Table 3: Mesh selection.


. million

. million

. million




Cp uj

xj xj


The equations here above were numerically solved in the

CFD program.

2.5 Boundary conditions

The boundary conditions were imposed at the walls of
the CFI and shell with a non slip condition, ui = 0.
At the inputs of the shell and tube temperature and
velocity boundary conditions were inserted.
At the outputs of the shell and tube a pressure outlet
boundary condition was inserted (0 Pascal).
A conjugate boundary condition was specified at the
wall of CFI, therefore, the heat transfer between the hot
and cold fluid was made possible.
A wall condition was inserted at the support part of
the body, therefore this one did not need to be meshed
and processing time was gained.

3 Results and discussion

The different meshes had temperature outlet differences
inferior to 1.1 K. The energy residuals of all meshes were
close to 105, whereas the continuity residuals were lower
for the 2.9 and 3.2 million elements.
The mesh was proven acceptable thanks to its low
skewness (Sun, 2007) and acceptable change in output
The compromise of precision and computational time
led to use the 2.9 million element mesh.

3.1 Effectiveness NTU study

3.1.1 Model validation
The NTU effectiveness studies were carried out in the CFI
experimentally and numerically. In order to be able to
validate the numerical simulations, a few repetitive tests
were engaged, these ones are shown on Table 4.

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T. Barthram and C. I. Rivera-Solorio: Experimental and Computational Analysis of Single Phase Flow

Table 4: Model validation table.

Input values
T tube in

T shell out

T tube out

T shell out

T tube out

T shell out









The Table 4 shows good agreement between numerical

and experimental output temperatures. Comparing them
the maximum temperature difference encountered is of
1.4 K on the third test for the shell. The tube side differences are lower, therefore were not explicitly shown.
Knowing that the K type thermostat has a precision of
0.5 degrees, the results of the simulation and experimental coincide with low temperature differences.

3.1.2 NTU effectiveness

The effectiveness NTU (-NTU) results are shown on the
Figure 6. These ones recapitulate 18 numerical simulations
and 28 validated experiments. The filled and hollow symbols represent respectively experimental and numerical NTU points, for different values of mass flow heat capacity
ratios. The highest effectiveness () encountered was of
65 % at 1.2 NTU and 70 % at 1.7 NTU experimentally and
numerically respectively at c = 0.25, where c is the capacity
ratio of minimum and maximum heat capacity rate. The
working fluid being water, the physical limitations of this
one did not permit numerical models increasing above
100 C at atmospheric pressure. Doing this would result
in evaporation, and so be in 2 phase flows.



c = 1 numerical


c = 0.75 numercial

The majority of experimental points for c at 1, 0.75 are

between 0.2 and 0.5 NTU, this due to the size of the heat
exchanger and the heating limitations of the experimental system, therefore it was necessary to add simulations
to confirm the experimental measures and increase the
range of the -NTU curves.
The extrapolation of the curves can be seen on the
Figure 7, the symbols filled with grey represent the combination of numerical and experimental data. The coiled
flow inverter seems to have similar -NTU curves in this
situation as the tube in tube parallel flow heat exchanger.

Regarding the tendencies a correlation has been proposed for the -NTU curves (15), the chosen correlation
is of a parallel flow heat exchanger, which fitted the
results with a maximum error of 2.1 %. This one being:

c = 1 experimental


c = 0.75 experimental


c = 0.5 experimental


c = 0.25 experimental



Figure 6: Effectiveness NTU chart, coiled flow inverter.

Figure 7: Tendencies added to NTU effectiveness.

c = 0.25 numerical


c = 0.75
c = 0.5
c = 0.25
c = 1 tendency
c = 0.75 tendency
c = 0.5 tendency
c = 0.25 tendency


c = 0.5 numerical


Difference (k)

T shell in




v tube m/s


v shell m/s


1 e NTU*1 + c


From eq. (15) and Figure 7, effectiveness () of the CFI is

seen to lay below 80 % for a capacity ratio of 0.25.
Additionally, previous studies (Kumar et al. 2007), report
a high inner convection coefficient, suggesting that the
best way to increase effectiveness () is by improving the
outer convective term(ho).

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T. Barthram and C. I. Rivera-Solorio: Experimental and Computational Analysis of Single Phase Flow

The eq. (16) here under shows the Nusselt equations

developed by Dr. Nigam (Mandal, Kumar, and Nigam 2010)
for the tube side of the heat exchanger.

The eq. (16) is valid for Re < 10,000 and for the tube side
Re is defined as (17):
Re =


Nu = 0.08825*Re0.7 *Pr 0.4 * 0.1


straight pipe
parallel flow






A Nusselt correlation (18) was developed for this specific

shell side configuration at low Reynolds numbers
(Re<2000), in this neither concurrent nor counter flow
Nu = 100*Re0.103 *Pr 0.66


The Reynolds in the shell is calculated with the diameter

of the coil as the characteristic length.
The velocity was calculated as:




The eqs (1520) provide a model for the CFI in its shell.
This model can be used to predict heat transfer within the
coiled flow inverter in this specific configuration.

3.2 Comparison with parallel flow heat

The Figures 810 present NTU, effectiveness () and overall
heat transfer coefficient (Uf) respectively. Results are



straight pipe
parallel flow







parallel flow




Re =

T shell (K)


And the Reynolds for the shell calculated as:



Uf (kW/m2.k)


Figure 9: Effectiveness against temperature difference in shell.





T shell (K)
Figure 8: NTU against temperature difference in shell.





T shell (K)
Figure 10: Overall heat transfer coeffcient temperature
difference in shell.

presented against shell temperature difference (T shell),

for the CFI (hyphen) and a regular straight pipe parallel
flow configuration (diamond). Both cases are evaluated
under the same conditions considering same materials, a
heat exchange area of 0.107 m2, flows of 4 and 1 l/min
for shell and tubes respectively, and a heat capacity ratio of
0.25. The Figure 8 includes the uncertainties (Pritchard, 2011)
encountered in the NTU, these ones ranging from 0.8
to 3.8 % of maximum experimental encountered NTU.
For the same flows, area, temperatures, the CFIs
NTU increases up to 300 % compared to the parallel
flow heat exchanger.
Figure 9 shows at the same conditions the increase in
effectiveness compared to the straight parallel flow heat
exchanger. The figure also contains the uncertainties
encountered in effectiveness, these ones ranging
from 0.9 to 2.8 % of maximum experimental calculated
Effectiveness on the other hand increases by up to
200 % when compared to the parallel flow heat exchanger
for certain shell temperature differences. Figure 8 shows

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T. Barthram and C. I. Rivera-Solorio: Experimental and Computational Analysis of Single Phase Flow

that the NTU for the CFI increases at larger temperature

differences in the shell. A similar behavior is observed for
the effectiveness in Figure 9. The NTU is function of the
overall heat transfer coefficient, and the effectiveness
depends on the NTU value. Therefore an increase in the
Uf of the CFI, results in an increment in the NTU and
Figures 8 and 9 show an increase in -NTU compared
to the other heat exchanger, but have the same -NTU
curves. This meaning that at the same process conditions,
the CFI will have a higher NTU and higher effectiveness,
which on Figure 7 translates in being further advanced on
the same c curve.
The Figure 10 shows the increase in Uf compared to the
temperature difference of the shell side and at the same
conditions as the previous figures.
In this case Uf increases by 500 % when comparing
the CFI against the parallel flow configuration.
Comparing this to the previous studies (Kumar et al.
2007; Mandal, Kumar, and Nigam 2010; Singh and
Nigam, 2016), Uf is in good agreement, this one varying
between 500 and 800 W/m2.k. The main limitation of
Uf is from outer convective term. Research has shown
that this one varies from 500 to 800 W/m2.k whereas the
CFIs inner convective term is much higher (Kumar et al.
2007). For a given heat transfer necessity, the coiled flow
inverter could be an interesting solution. Being compact, this one can reduce the length of the heat exchanger and its cumbersomeness. Inputs and outputs being
close together would reduce the piping needs.

4 Conclusion

NTU and effectiveness Uncertainties do not rise

above 3.8 % of maximum experimental measures.
Having the same -NTU tendencies, under same conditions, the CFI result in higher NTU, and Uf compared
to the parallel flow heat exchanger. The overall heat
transfer coefficient is in agreement with the previous
studies. The increases noted are of 200 %, 300 % and
500 %, respectively for effectiveness, number of transfer
units and overall heat transfer coefficient compared to a
regular parallel flow heat exchanger at the same conditions. It is noted that the limiting factor for higher Uf lies
in shell side convective term (ho). For a given heat transfer process necessity, the CFI could be a good solution,
this one being compact, having higher Uf and its inputs
and outputs closer together. This one presents interesting
qualities in terms of, volumetric length of the heat
exchanger, reducing piping necessities.
This study provides the equations and -NTU curves
to dimension numerically a CFI heat exchanger in its
shell for a given process condition.
Further studies could determine the NTU effectiveness curves of a CFI in a perfect counter flow situation
at different cs.
Acknowledgements: The authors acknowledge the support from the Tecnolgico de Monterrey through the
Focus Group of Energy and Climate Change.
Funding: This work was funded by the Tecnologico de
Monterrey and by the CONACYT governmental entity
(National Council of Science and Technology).


An experimental study complemented with numerical

simulations was performed for a coiled flow in a neither
counter nor parallel flow configuration. The tests were
performed under 18,000 Re for the tube side and 2,000
Re for the shell side. Model validation consisted in comparing a few numerical and experimental results at same
process conditions. This showed conformity for the
output flow temperatures, with the highest deviation of
1.4 K. From this study the following conclusion can be
The CFI has similar -NTU curves to the parallel flow
heat exchanger with maximum deviation of 2.1 %.
Effectivenesss of 80 % at NTU values of 4 for c = 0.25.
A correlation is proposed for the shell side Nusselt

Cc orCh

Number of Reynolds
Number of Dean
Prandtl Number
Interior tube diameter
Coil diameter
Length of tube
Specific heat
Heat transfer rate
Mass flow rate
Heat capacity rate of cold or hot fluid
Minimum heat capacity rate
Capacity ratio of minimum and maximum capacity rates
Number of Transfer Units
Projected length of coil

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T. Barthram and C. I. Rivera-Solorio: Experimental and Computational Analysis of Single Phase Flow


Logarithmic mean temperature difference

Overall heat transfer coefficient times correction factor
Inner convective heat transfer coefficient
Outer convective heat transfer coefficient

Greek letters


Coefficient of viscosity


Curvature ratio







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