18 May 2017
The design of the evaporator of an air conditioning system relies heavily on heat transfer coefficients and pressure drop correlations that predominantly involve an estimate of the changing void fraction and the underlying two-phase flow regime. These correlations dictate whether the resulting heat exchanger is oversized or not and the amount of refrigerant charge necessary to operate. The latter is particularly important when dealing with flammable or high GWP refrigerants.
Traditional techniques to measure the void fraction and visualize the flow are either invasive to the flow or occur downstream of the evaporator, where some of the flow distribution will have changed. Neutron imaging has the potential to visualize two-phase flow in-situ where an aluminium heat exchanger structure becomes essentially transparent to the penetrating neutrons. The subatomic particles are attenuated by the passing refrigerant flow. The resulting image may be directly related to the void fraction and the overall picture provides a clear insight into the flow regime present.
This work presents neutron images of the refrigerant Isopentane as it passes through the flow channels of an aluminium evaporator at flowrates relevant to air conditioning. The flow in a 4mm square macro channel is compared to that in a 250?m by 750?m rectangular microchannel in terms of void fraction and regime. All neutron imaging experiments were conducted at the High Flux Isotope Reactor, an Oak Ridge National Laboratory facility.