The Science of Nanofluids

what-is-a-nanofluid
 A Nanofluid is a fluid containing nanoparticles, that is, particles of solids with a dimension measured in nanometers, 1/1000 of a micron or roughly one ten thousandth of the width of a human hair. These particles are carried by the fluid in a suspension, typically called a colloidal dispersion.  Nanofluids have been shown to have higher heat transfer rates and thermal conductivity, even at very low solid concentrations (<1%). The nanoparticles can also effect viscosity, particularly at higher concentrations.

Starting about ten years ago, scientists started mixing nanofluids combining water and oils with various nanoparticles, and reporting unusual results. Classic fluid dynamic theory, as developed by Maxwell, suggests that the thermal properties of liquids would only be slightly changed by mixing solids, and that it would be proportional to the amount of solids in the colloidal mixture. But researchers were reporting substantially higher rates of thermal conductivity, of 5%, 10%, even 40% higher than anticipated by classical theory. This set off a boomlet of scientific papers investigating the phenomena, see here and here and here for examples.

Most of the research was done using water and water glycol mixes, as the researchers were interested in improving the performance of coolants. Most of the nanoparticles used were the cheapest and most commercially readily available materials, such as nanoparticles of aluminum oxides, silicon oxides, and carbon nanotubes. These particles were tested at concentrations of 1-2% by weight in the nanofluid, as the scientists wanted the maximum results, and this was the limit of what they could keep in suspension.

Other researchers reported similar changes in thermal conductivity despite using very low concentrations (as little as 100 ppm) of nanoparticles. These effects are totally at variance with the classic Maxwell theory, and are not well understood in terms of their mechanism. The Cool-X nanofluid technology, based on proprietary nanocarbon particles, are added to base oils at these low concentrations, which avoid changing the viscosity or rheology of the oils, and also reduce the cost to manufacture the additive, keeping it affordable.

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