Abstract

The technological opportunities enabled by understanding and controlling microscale systems have not yet been capitalized to disruptively improve energy processes. The main limitation corresponds to the laminar flows typically encountered in microdevices, which result in small mixing and transfer rates. This is a central unsolved problem in the thermal-fluid sciences, in what some researchers refer to as “quot;ab-on-a-chip and energy - microfluidic frontier”. Therefore, this work focuses on analyzing the potential of supercritical fluids to achieve turbulence in microconfined systems by studying their thermophysical properties. In particular, a real-gas thermodynamic model, combined with high-pressure transport coefficients, is utilized to characterize the Reynolds number achieved as a function of supercritical pressures and temperatures. The results indicate that fully-turbulent flows can be attained for a wide range of working fluids related to heat transfer applications, power cycles and energy conversion systems, and presenting increment ratios of O(100) with respect to atmospheric (subcritical) thermodynamic conditions. The underlying physical mechanism to achieve relatively high Reynolds numbers is based on operating within supercritical thermodynamic states (close to the critical point and pseudo-boiling region) in which density is relatively large while dynamic viscosity is similar to that of a gas. In addition, based on the Reynolds numbers achieved and the thermophysical properties of the fluids studied, an assessment of heat transfer at turbulent microfluidic conditions is presented to demonstrate the potential of supercritical fluids to enhance the performances of standard microfluidic systems by factors up to approximately 50x.

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