Microchannel heat exchangers have become widely employed in modern systems, found within aerospace applications, waste heat recovery, water treatment processes, air conditioning, biomedical treatments and various industrial process applications. The microchannels increase the ratio of heat transfer surface to volume, thus improving the heat transfer performance significantly whilst reducing the overall weight and size. Moreover, by utilizing secondary flow from Dean Vortices induced by curved microfluidic channels, the fluid flow and heat transfer performance can be enhanced even further beyond conventional straight channels. However, since pressure drops found in microchannels are often quite high, channel lengths must be kept relatively short to balance the friction loss and energy consumption. Due to this, the developing region length at the microchannel entrance area has a greater impact than for macroscale channels, in terms of hydrodynamic and thermal performance over the remaining full developed region.
The thermo-hydraulic design for heat transfer microchannel surfaces is strongly dependent on several dimensionless performance indicators, namely Nusselt number ‘Nu’ for heat transfer, and Poiseuille number ‘Po’, which is the product of Fanning friction factor ‘f’ and Reynolds number ‘Re’. These parameters are used to characterize and optimize the performance of microchannel surfaces and heat exchangers in general, also can be used to determine both the thermal and hydraulic developing region lengths at the channel entrance area. Whilst many such studies exist for theoretical analysis and experimental verifications, currently there is little literature on the developing region lengths and impacts researched through the method of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). As such, this paper identifies and explores via quantitative analysis the hydraulic and thermal performance changes created by the relevant developing region lengths at the entrance area of spiral microchannels, as well as determinations and comparisons of these effects over straight channels. The numerical results, generated via COMSOL Multiphysics and contrasted with previous literature on the subject, also compared with the effect of the developing region on the effectiveness and efficiency of both spiral and straight microchannels, finding an improved heat transfer performance but an increased impact of hydraulic friction as well for spiral channels against straight counterpart. Furthermore, significant differences between thermal developing region length and hydraulic developing region length can be observed throughout, which illustrates high challenge and the need for compromise in microchannel design. In this way, implications for the configuration and design of industrial microchannels and micro heat exchangers are self-evident. All the key factors given in this paper are dimensionless, and thus the generated results can be utilized for a variety of flow conditions. Hence, this work should permit an increased understanding for and boost the curved microchannel and micro heat exchanger designs subsequently, through reducing the required numbers of tests and experiments and expediting the development for similar applications followed.