Heat exchangers employing falling films are relevant to a multitude of industrial applications using water-based liquids. In the present study, periodic, two-dimensional waves are imposed by excitation on a vertically falling film of water, which is then heated by a uniform heat flux, within the laminar and transitional flow range (39<Re<200). Liquid-film thickness is measured by confocal chromatic imaging and surface temperature is measured by high-speed IR thermography. As the 2D waves travel downstream they destabilize in the spanwise direction and evolve 3D structures (bumps). Further wave destabilization, under relatively low heating, was observed to coincide with the appearance of local thermal flows (“hot streaks”), though no deformation of the liquid surface could be measured. These flows are understood to be induced by thermo-capillary forces, which in extreme cases are known to lead to the formation of rivulets, film rupture and heater burnout. Understanding these initial stages of thermo-capillary flow is crucial to its suppression.

Analysis of the thermal images reveals several significant streamwise length scales: a thermal inlet length based on the emergence of the thermal boundary layer (Lt), a thermal inlet length based on reaching thermally developed conditions (Lh), and the length at which “hot-streaks” first appear (Ls). In addition the dominant (most unstable) spanwise wavelength of the hot streaks, Lz, was identified through FFT analysis of the thermal profile beyond Ls. First the independence of the thermal inlet lengths from the heat-flux was established. Next, the influence of the nominal flow conditions (Reynolds number and excitation frequency) on Lt, Lh and Lz was examined — thereby extending the range of previous studies to higher Reynolds numbers. The thermal inlet lengths Lt and Lh were found to increase with flow rate, whereas they had opposing trends with regard to frequency. Lz consistently decreased with an increase of the flow rate, as smaller (turbulent) scales became more dominant, and it was found to be indifferent to excitation frequency over a wide range. Some future directions and methods of hot streak suppression are discussed, as well.

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