This study discusses the merits of various physical mechanisms that are responsible for enhancing the heat transfer in nanofluids. Experimental studies have cemented the claim that ‘seeding’ liquids with nanoparticles can increase the thermal conductivity of the nanofluid by up to 40% for metallic and oxide nanoparticles dispersed in a base liquid. Experiments have also shown that the rise in conductivity of the nanofluid is highly dependent on the size and concentration of the nanoparticles. On the theoretical side, traditional models like Maxwell or Hamilton-Crosser models cannot explain this unusually high heat transfer. Several mechanisms have been postulated in the literature such as Brownian motion, thermal diffusion in nanoparticles and thermal interaction of nanoparticles with the surrounding fluid, the formation of an ordered liquid layer on the surface of the nanoparticle and microconvection. This study concentrates on 3 possible mechanisms: Brownian dynamics, microconvection and lattice vibration of nanoparticles in the fluid. By considering two nanofluids, copper particles dispersed in ethylene glycol, and silica in water, it is determined that translational Brownian motion of the nanoparticles, presence of an interparticle potential and the microconvection heat transfer are mechanisms that play only a smaller role in the enhancement of thermal conductivity. On the other hand, the lattice vibrations, determined by molecular dynamics simulations show a great deal of promise in increasing the thermal conductivity by as much as 23%. In a simplistic sense, the lattice vibration can be regarded as a means to simulate the phononic transport from solid to liquid at the interface.

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