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© 2006 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. ( Published in ASHRAE Journal (Vol.

48, April
2006). For personal use only. Additional distribution in either paper or digital form is not permitted without ASHRAE’s permission.

Heat Transfer Enhancement

Heat transfer enhancements can improve the heat exchanger ef-
fectiveness of internal and external flows. Typically, they increase
fluid mixing, by increasing flow vorticity, unsteadiness, or turbu-
lence or by limiting the growth of fluid boundary layers close to
the heat transfer surfaces.

By Detlef Westphalen, Ph.D., Member ASHRAE; Kurt Roth, Ph.D., Associate Member ASHRAE; and
James Brodrick, Ph.D., Member ASHRAE

This is the thirty-first article inspired by a DOE report cover- tion to turbulent flow, creating vorticity that increases mix-
ing energy-saving HVAC&R technologies. ing, or restarting the thermal boundary layer to decrease its
thickness. Table 1 describes several different types of heat

eat exchanger effectiveness can impact the efficiency transfer enhancement.
of vapor-compression cycles used in air conditioners, In some cases, the heat exchanger operating conditions permit
heat pumps, refrigeration equipment, and refrigera- the flow to be tripped from laminar to turbulent flow if subjected
tors. As the refrigerant condensing or evaporating temperature to a sufficiently strong perturbation. The surface downstream
approaches that of the ultimate heat transfer medium, e.g., of flow transition then experiences higher heat transfer coef-
the outdoor air temperature for an air-cooled condenser, ficients because most resistance to heat transfer occurs across
the vapor compression cycle temperature difference (also a thin viscous flow layer near the wall instead of across the
referred to as the lift) decreases. This, in turn, decreases the entire boundary layer. Tripping devices used include surface
pressure ratio across the compressor, increasing its opera- obstructions (steps, coils, tapes, three-dimensional shapes),
tional coefficient of performance (COP) and decreasing its surface indentations (cavities, dimples), roughness, as well as
energy consumption. upstream turbulence and vorticity.1
In vapor compression cycles, enhancement techniques aug- Upstream vorticity does not always cause a flow to become
ment both refrigerant- and air-side heat transfer. Due to the turbulent, but its swirling motions can enhance heat transfer by
more favorable heat transfer characteristics of refrigerants and increasing mixing between the air at the heat exchanger sur-
liquids relative to air, and the common use of helical grooves face and the bulk airflow. Examples include wavy fins, surface
(rifling) to enhance refrigerant-side heat transfer, air-side winglets, and other elements that protrude from fin surfaces
heat transfer tends to limit overall heat exchanger efficiency, sufficiently to generate vorticity.1,2,3
accounting for two-thirds or more of total heat transfer resis- At the leading edge of a heat exchanger surface, the thermal
tance. Consequently, this column focuses primarily on air-side boundary layer is thin and poses little resistance to heat transfer.
heat transfer enhancement techniques. As the length from the leading edge increases, so does the resis-
In the absence of enhancement, most HVAC air-to-liquid tance to heat transfer. Some designs interrupt the heat transfer
heat exchangers have laminar flow over surfaces due to surfaces to enable the boundary layer to restart, increasing h.
the small hydraulic diameters of spaces between fins. Heat Practical examples of devices used to restart boundary layers
transfer in laminar flows occurs across a thermal boundary include offset strips and louvered fins.1,2,3
layer between the heat exchanger surface and the airflow. All of the approaches discussed previously are passive, i.e.,
Unlike turbulent boundary layers, which have vigorous they do not require additional energy to modify the flow. On
mixing due to turbulent flow structures that readily transfer the other hand, most increase the pressure drop of the heat
heat between the surface and the airflow, calmer laminar exchanger and, in turn, increase the fan energy consumption.
boundary layers have lower heat transfer coefficients, h. Consequently, their net effectiveness depends upon the balance
To overcome these limitations, heat transfer enhancement between the reduction in compressor power from increased heat
approaches augment heat transfer by either causing a transi- transfer and the increase in fan power.

68 ASHRAE Journal April 2006

Approach Description Enhancement Possible

Slits or offset fins interrupt the boundary layer, restarting it, creat-
Surface Interruptions 50% – 100%
ing secondary flows, and/or generating flow unsteadiness*

Accelerates transition from laminar flow to turbulent; also in-

Surface Roughness Up to 300%
creases turbulent flow heat transfer

Ridges or three-dimensional shapes (cube, pyramid, etc.) gen-

Surface Protuberances 50% – 500%
erate secondary or unsteady flows*

Surface vibration or sound waves thins or restarts boundary

Forced Flow Unsteadiness Small**
layer and/or induces secondary flows

Electrohydrodynamic (EHD) High-voltage (>1 kV) applied to an electrode near a plate in-
duces secondary flows in boundary layer (liquid flows only)

Boundary Layer Injection Enhancement primarily for multiphase flows 50% – 500%

Boundary Layer Suction Removal of boundary layer restarts boundary layer downstream Large†

* Heat transfer decreased in separated flow region.

** Significant enhancement possible in liquid flows (from cavitation) or natural convection.

See Bergles, 1998.
Table 1: Surface vibrations or sound waves thin or restart boundary layer and/or induce secondary flows.1,5

Active approaches use external energy sources to actively Market Factors

alter the flow. Active approaches can enhance heat transfer by Heat exchanger design and selection cannot be separated
one or more of the three mechanisms described previously. For from a system context and reflects several tradeoffs including:
example, large pressure fluctuations imposed acoustically aug- compressor energy efficiency gains, heat exchanger airside
ment heat transfer by increasing flow unsteadiness and, in some pressure drop (fan power), component costs, and component
instances, inducing laminar-to-turbulent flow transition.1 size. The extent that enhanced heat exchange affects these
design variables as compared with other performance en-
Energy-Saving Potential hancement options ultimately affects its ability to penetrate
Typically, a refrigerant-to-air heat exchanger for an air the market and appear in products. For example, heat transfer
conditioner has a saturated refrigerant temperature approxi- enhancement options may compete with the use of larger
mately 10°C to 15°C (18°F to 27°F) higher than the ambient conventional heat exchangers and higher-efficiency compres-
air temperature flowing through the condenser. By reducing sors to increase unit efficiency and meet an EER target for
the temperature difference between the refrigerant and air one product.
temperatures, enhanced heat exchange decreases the overall Alternately, enhanced heat exchange may be employed
temperature lift of the cycle and increases the cycle’s coef- to decrease heat exchanger area and reduce unit cost or
ficient of performance (COP). Airside heat transfer enhance- size while maintaining acceptable energy performance.
ments have been used for evaporators, although condensa- For example, heat transfer enhancement may prove attrac-
tion and frost formation on the heat exchanger surface if of tive for certain unitary or military products because they
evaporators complicates the application of enhancements allow the manufacturer to maintain adequate performance
to evaporators. without increasing—or while decreasing—the size of the
Analyses performed by TIAX to assess the energy-perfor- unit’s enclosure.
mance gains for air-cooled air conditioning and refrigeration Manufacturers may be cautious about introducing novel
cycles indicate a 100% increase in condenser heat transfer heat transfer enhancement approaches into products. If ap-
coefficient can reduce cycle energy consumption by approxi- proaches require appreciable modifications to existing heat
mately 10% to 15% over a range of conditions. On a national exchanger manufacturing processes, manufacturers may have
basis, this could reduce the 7 quads consumed by residential to incur significant capital costs. To mitigate technical risks of
and commercial air conditioners and refrigeration equipment6 changing heat exchanger geometry, manufacturers must first
by about 0.7 to 1.1 quads. However, this does not account for perform extensive laboratory and field testing to verify that
additional fan energy consumption, which varies on a case- the enhancements perform reliably over the range of expected
by-case basis. operating conditions. Notably, the airside of condensers needs

70 ASHRAE Journal April 2006

to resist performance degradation from fouling by grease and 3. Gidwani, A., M. Molki, and M.M. Ohadi. 2002. “EHD-
dust. This tends to limit the applicability of many potential enhanced condensation of alternative refrigerants in smooth
enhancement approaches.2 and corrugated tubes.” HVAC&R Research 8(3).
Specific heat transfer enhancement approaches have their 4. Jacobi, A.M. and R.K. Shah. 1998, “Air-side flow and
own challenges to commercialization. For instance, Electrohy- heat transfer in compact heat exchangers: a discussion of
drodynamics (EHD) for enhancing water- or refrigerant-side enhancement mechanisms.” Heat Transfer Engineering,
heat transfer relies upon high voltages (sometimes in excess of 19(4):29 – 41.
10 kV) to achieve dramatic (300%+) increases in heat transfer 5. TIAX. 2002. “Energy consumption characteristics of
coefficients.4,5 Implementing EHD has several complicating commercial building HVAC systems—Volume III: energy
factors, including manufacturing complexity (to insert the high- savings potential.” Final Report to U.S. Department of Energy,
voltage electrodes in the tubes), safety concerns, and possible Office of Building Technologies.
reliability issues.
6. DOE. 2005. “2005 Buildings Energy Databook.” Pre-
pared for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy
Efficiency and Renewable Energy. http://buildingsdatabook.
1. Bergles, A.E. 1998. “Techniques to enhance heat trans-
fer.” Chapter 11 of Handbook of Heat Transfer, 3rded. W.M.
Rohsenow, J.P. Hartnett, and Y.I. Cho, eds. New York: Mc- Detlef Westphalen, Ph.D., is principal and Kurt W. Roth,
Graw-Hill. Ph.D., is associate principal in the HVAC and Refrigeration
2. Bullard, C.W. and R. Radermacher. 1994. “New technolo- Technology sector of TIAX, Cambridge, Mass. James Brodrick,
gies for air conditioning and refrigeration.” Annual Review of Ph.D., is a project manager, Building Technologies Program,
Energy and Environment pp. 113–152. U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, D.C.

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April 2006 ASHRAE Journal 71