A relatively simple subset of nanotechnology - nanofluids - can be obtained by adding nanoparticles to conventional base fluids. The promise of these fluids stems from the fact that relatively low particle loadings (typically <1% volume fractions) can significantly change the properties of the base fluid. This research explores how low volume fraction nanofluids, composed of common base-fluids, interact with light energy. Comparative experimentation and modeling reveals that absorbing light volumetrically (i.e. in the depth of the fluid) is fundamentally different from surface-based absorption. Depending on the particle material, size, shape, and volume fraction, a fluid can be changed from being mostly transparent to sunlight (in the case of water, alcohols, oils, and glycols) to being a very efficient volumetric absorber of sunlight. This research also visualizes, under high levels of irradiation, how nanofluids undergo interesting, localized phase change phenomena. For this, images were taken of bubble formation and boiling in aqueous nanofluids heated by a hot wire and by a laser. Infrared thermography was also used to quantify this phenomenon. Overall, though, this research reveals the possibility for novel solar collectors in which the working fluid directly absorbs light energy and undergoes phase change in a single step. Modeling results indicate that these improvements can increase a solar thermal receiver's efficiency by up to 10%.
- Thermal energy conversion in nanofluids
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by Robert Taylor