Introduction to Heat Transfer

By: Poonam Shah | Views: 1740 | Date: 01-Sep-2011

Heat transfer is a discipline of thermal engineering that concerns the exchange of thermal energy from one physical system to another. Heat transfer is classified into various mechanisms, such as heat conduction, convection, thermal radiation, and phase-change transfer.

Heat transfer
Heat transfer is a discipline of thermal engineering that concerns the exchange of thermal energy from one physical system to another. Heat transfer is classified into various mechanisms, such as heat conduction, convection, thermal radiation, and phase-change transfer. All forms of heat transfer may occur in some systems (for example, in transparent fluids like the Earth's atmosphere) at the same time. Heat transfer only occurs because of a temperature-difference driving force and heat flows from the high to the low temperature region.
Heat conduction, also called diffusion, is the direct microscopic exchange of kinetic energy of particles through the stationary boundary between two systems. Heat conduction occurs between stationary masses where there is no movement to carry heat away. Heat transfer through the stationary air layer immediately adjacent to; say one millimeter or so from an interior wall, or from a warm pot placed on a counter, are examples of conductive heat transfer.

Heat convection occurs when bulk flow of a fluid (gas or liquid) carries heat along with the flow of matter in the fluid. The flow of fluid may be forced by external processes, or sometimes (in gravitational fields) by buoyancy forces caused when thermal energy expands the fluid (for example in a fire plume), thus influencing its own transfer. The latter process is sometimes called "natural convection". All convective processes also move heat partly by diffusion, as well. Another form of convection is forced convection. In this case the fluid is forced to flow by use of a pump, fan or other mechanical means.

The final major form of heat transfer is by radiation, which occurs in any transparent medium (solid or fluid) but may also even occur across vacuum (as when the Sun heats the Earth). Radiation is the transfer of energy through space by means of electromagnetic waves in much the same way as electromagnetic light waves transfer light. The same laws that govern the transfer of light govern the radiant transfer of heat.


Heat is defined in physics as the transfer of thermal energy across a well-defined boundary around a thermodynamic system. It is a characteristic of a process and is not statically contained in matter. In engineering contexts, however, the term heat transfer has acquired a specific usage, despite its literal redundancy of the characterization of transfer. In these contexts, heat is taken as synonymous to thermal energy. This usage has its origin in the historical interpretation of heat as a fluid (caloric) that can be transferred by various causes, and that is also common in the language of laymen and everyday life.
Fundamental methods of heat transfer in engineering include conduction, convection, and radiation. Physical laws describe the behavior and characteristics of each of these methods. Real systems often exhibit a complicated combination of them. Heat transfer methods are used in numerous disciplines, such as automotive engineering, thermal management of electronic devices and systems, climate control, insulation, materials processing, and power plant engineering.
Various mathematical methods have been developed to solve or approximate the results of heat transfer in systems. Heat transfer is a path function (or process quantity), as opposed to a state quantity; therefore, the amount of heat transferred in a thermodynamic process that changes the state of a system depends on how that process occurs, not only the net difference between the initial and final states of the process. Heat flux is a quantitative, vectorial representation of the heat flow through a surface.
Heat transfer is typically studied as part of a general chemical engineering or mechanical engineering curriculum. Typically, thermodynamics is a prerequisite for heat transfer courses, as the laws of thermodynamics are essential to the mechanism of heat transfer. Other courses related to heat transfer include energy conversion, thermo fluids, and mass transfer.
The transport equations for thermal energy (Fourier's law), mechanical momentum (Newton's law for fluids), and mass transfer (Fick's laws of diffusion) are similar and analogies among these three transport processes have been developed to facilitate prediction of conversion from any one to the others.


The fundamental modes of heat transfer are:
• Conduction or diffusion -The transfer of energy between objects that are in physical contact
• Convection -The transfer of energy between an object and its environment, due to fluid motion
• Radiation -The transfer of energy to or from a body by means of the emission or absorption of electromagnetic radiation
• Mass transfer -The transfer of energy from one location to another as a side effect of physically moving an object containing that energy


On a microscopic scale, heat conduction occurs as hot, rapidly moving or vibrating atoms and molecules interact with neighboring atoms and molecules, transferring some of their energy (heat) to these neighboring particles. In other words, heat is transferred by conduction when adjacent atoms vibrate against one another, or as electrons move from one atom to another. Conduction is the most significant means of heat transfer within a solid or between solid objects in thermal contact. Fluids—especially gases—are less conductive. Thermal contact conductance is the study of heat conduction between solid bodies in contact.
 Steady state conduction is a form of conduction that happens when the temperature difference driving the conduction is constant, so that after an equilibration time, the spatial distribution of temperatures in the conducting object does not change any further. In steady state conduction, the amount of heat entering a section is equal to amount of heat coming out.
Ransient conduction occurs when the temperature within an object changes as a function of time. Analysis of transient systems is more complex and often calls for the application of approximation theories or numerical analysis by computer.


Convective heat transfer, or convection, is the transfer of heat from one place to another by the movement of fluids. (In physics, the term fluid means any substance that deforms under shear stress; it includes liquids, gases, plasmas, and some plastic solids.) Bulk motion of the fluid enhances the heat transfer between the solid surface and the fluid. Convection is usually the dominant form of heat transfer in liquids and gases. Although often discussed as a third method of heat transfer, convection actually describes the combined effects of conduction and fluid flow.
Free, or natural, convection occurs when the fluid motion is caused by buoyancy forces that result from density variations due to variations of temperature in the fluid. Forced convection is when the fluid is forced to flow over the surface by external means—such as fans, stirrers, and pumps—creating an artificially induced convection current.
 Convective heating or cooling in some circumstances may be described by Newton's law of cooling: "The rate of heat loss of a body is proportional to the difference in temperatures between the body and its surroundings." However, by definition, the validity of Newton's law of cooling requires that the rate of heat loss from convection be a linear function of ("proportional to") the temperature difference that drives heat transfer, and in convective cooling this is sometimes not the case. In general, convection is not linearly dependent on temperature gradients, and in some cases is strongly nonlinear. In these cases, Newton's law does not apply.


A red-hot iron object, transferring heat to the surrounding environment primarily through thermal radiation.
Thermal radiation is energy emitted by matter as electromagnetic waves due to the pool of thermal energy that all matter possesses that has a temperature above absolute zero. Thermal radiation propagates without the presence of matter through the vacuum of space.
 Thermal radiation is a direct result of the random movements of atoms and molecules in matter. Since these atoms and molecules are composed of charged particles (protons and electrons), their movement results in the emission of electromagnetic radiation, which carries energy away from the surface.
Unlike conductive and convective forms of heat transfer, thermal radiation can be concentrated in a small spot by using reflecting mirrors, which is exploited in concentrating solar power generation. For example, the sunlight reflected from mirrors heats the PS10 solar power tower and during the day it can heat water to 285 °C (545 °F).

Mass Transfer

In mass transfer, energy—including thermal energy—is moved by the physical transfer of a hot or cold object from one place to another.[12] This can be as simple as placing hot water in a bottle and heating a bed, or the movement of an iceberg in changing ocean currents. A practical example is thermal hydraulics.

Convection vs. conduction

In a body of fluid that is heated from underneath its container, conduction and convection can be considered to compete for dominance. If heat conduction is too great, fluid moving down by convection is heated by conduction so fast that its downward movement will be stopped due to its buoyancy, while fluid moving up by convection is cooled by conduction so fast that its driving buoyancy will diminish. On the other hand, if heat conduction is very low, a large temperature gradient may be formed and convection might be very strong.

The Rayleigh number (Ra) is a measure determining the result of this competition.

• g is acceleration due to gravity
• ρ is the density with Δρ being the density difference between the lower and upper ends
• μ is the dynamic viscosity
• α is the Thermal diffusivity
• β is the volume thermal expansivity (sometimes denoted α elsewhere)
• T is the temperature and
• ν is the kinematic viscosity.
The Rayleigh number can be understood as the ratio between the rate of heat transfer by convection to the rate of heat transfer by conduction; or, equivalently, the ratio between the corresponding timescales (i.e. conduction timescale divided by convection timescale), up to a numerical factor. This can be seen as follows, where all calculations are up to numerical factors depending on the geometry of the system.
The buoyancy force driving the convection is roughly gΔρL3, so the corresponding pressure is roughly gΔρL. In steady state, this is canceled by the shear stress due to viscosity, and therefore roughly equals μV / L = μ / Tconv, where V is the typical fluid velocity due to convection and Tconv the order of its timescale. The conduction timescale, on the other hand, is of the order of Tcond = L2 / α.
Convection occurs when the Rayleigh number is above 1,000–2,000. For example, the Earth's mantle, exhibiting non-stable convection, has Rayleigh number of the order of 1,000, and Tconv as calculated above is around 100 million years.
Phase changes
Transfer of heat through a phase transition in the medium—such as water-to-ice, water-to-steam, steam-to-water, or ice-to-water—involves significant energy and is exploited in many ways: steam engines, refrigerators, etc. For example, the Mason equation is an approximate analytical expression for the growth of a water droplet based on the effects of heat transport on evaporation and condensation.
Heat transfer in boiling fluids is complex, but of considerable technical importance. It is characterized by an S-shaped curve relating heat flux to surface temperature difference.
 At low driving temperatures, no boiling occurs and the heat transfer rate is controlled by the usual single-phase mechanisms. As the surface temperature is increased, local boiling occurs and vapor bubbles nucleate, grow into the surrounding cooler fluid, and collapse. This is sub-cooled nucleate boiling, and is a very efficient heat transfer mechanism. At high bubble generation rates, the bubbles begin to interfere and the heat flux no longer increases rapidly with surface temperature (this is the departure from nucleate boiling, or DNB). At higher temperatures still, a maximum in the heat flux is reached (the critical heat flux, or CHF). The regime of falling heat transfer that follows is not easy to study, but is believed to be characterized by alternate periods of nucleate and film boiling. Nucleate boiling slows the heat transfer due to gas bubbles on the heater's surface; as mentioned, gas-phase thermal conductivity is much lower than liquid-phase thermal conductivity, so the outcome is a kind of "gas thermal barrier".
At higher temperatures still, the hydro dynamically-quieter regime of film boiling is reached. Heat fluxes across the stable vapor layers are low, but rise slowly with temperature. Any contact between fluid and the surface that may be seen probably leads to the extremely rapid nucleation of a fresh vapor layer ("spontaneous nucleation").


Condensation occurs when a vapor is cooled and changes its phase to a liquid. Condensation heat transfer, like boiling, is of great significance in industry. During condensation, the latent heat of vaporization must be released. The amount of the heat is the same as that absorbed during vaporization at the same fluid pressure.
There are several types of condensation:
• Homogeneous condensation, as during a formation of fog.
• Condensation in direct contact with sub cooled liquid.
• Condensation on direct contact with a cooling wall of a heat exchanger: This is the most common mode used in industry:
o Film wise condensation is when a liquid film is formed on the sub cooled surface, and usually occurs when the liquid wets the surface.
o Drop wise condensation is when liquid drops are formed on the sub cooled surface, and usually occurs when the liquid does not wet the surface.
Drop wise condensation is difficult to sustain reliably; therefore, industrial equipment is normally designed to operate in film wise condensation mode.

Heat equation

The heat equation is an important partial differential equation that describes the distribution of heat (or variation in temperature) in a given region over time. In some cases, exact solutions of the equation are available; in other cases the equation must be solved numerically using computational methods. For example, simplified climate models may use Newtonian cooling, instead of a full (and computationally expensive) radiation code, to maintain atmospheric temperatures.
Insulation and radiant barriers
Heat exposure as part of a fire test for fire stop products. Thermal insulators are materials specifically designed to reduce the flow of heat by limiting conduction, convection, or both. Radiant barriers are materials that reflect radiation, and therefore reduce the flow of heat from radiation sources. Good insulators are not necessarily good radiant barriers, and vice versa. Metal, for instance, is an excellent reflector and a poor insulator.

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