Transport phenomena

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In engineering, physics and chemistry, the study of transport phenomena concerns the exchange of mass, energy, charge, momentum and angular momentum between observed and studied systems. While it draws from fields as diverse as continuum mechanics and thermodynamics, it places a heavy emphasis on the commonalities between the topics covered. Mass, momentum, and heat transport all share a very similar mathematical framework, and the parallels between them are exploited in the study of transport phenomena to draw deep mathematical connections that often provide very useful tools in the analysis of one field that are directly derived from the others.


The fundamental analysis in all three subfields of mass, heat, and momentum transfer are often grounded in the simple principle that the total sum of the quantities being studied must be conserved by the system and its environment. Thus, the different phenomena that lead to transport are each considered individually with the knowledge that the sum of their contributions must equal zero. This principle is useful for calculating many relevant quantities. For example, in fluid mechanics, a common use of transport analysis is to determine the velocity profile of a fluid flowing through a rigid volume.

Transport phenomena are ubiquitous throughout the engineering disciplines. Some of the most common examples of transport analysis in engineering are seen in the fields of process, chemical, biological, [1] and mechanical engineering, but the subject is a fundamental component of the curriculum in all disciplines involved in any way with fluid mechanics, heat transfer, and mass transfer. It is now considered to be a part of the engineering discipline as much as thermodynamics, mechanics, and electromagnetism.

Transport phenomena encompass all agents of physical change in the universe. Moreover, they are considered to be fundamental building blocks which developed the universe, and which is responsible for the success of all life on earth. However, the scope here is limited to the relationship of transport phenomena to artificial engineered systems. [2]


In physics, transport phenomena are all irreversible processes of statistical nature stemming from the random continuous motion of molecules, mostly observed in fluids. Every aspect of transport phenomena is grounded in two primary concepts : the conservation laws, and the constitutive equations. The conservation laws, which in the context of transport phenomena are formulated as continuity equations, describe how the quantity being studied must be conserved. The constitutive equations describe how the quantity in question responds to various stimuli via transport. Prominent examples include Fourier's law of heat conduction and the Navier–Stokes equations, which describe, respectively, the response of heat flux to temperature gradients and the relationship between fluid flux and the forces applied to the fluid. These equations also demonstrate the deep connection between transport phenomena and thermodynamics, a connection that explains why transport phenomena are irreversible. Almost all of these physical phenomena ultimately involve systems seeking their lowest energy state in keeping with the principle of minimum energy. As they approach this state, they tend to achieve true thermodynamic equilibrium, at which point there are no longer any driving forces in the system and transport ceases. The various aspects of such equilibrium are directly connected to a specific transport: heat transfer is the system's attempt to achieve thermal equilibrium with its environment, just as mass and momentum transport move the system towards chemical and mechanical equilibrium.

Examples of transport processes include heat conduction (energy transfer), fluid flow (momentum transfer), molecular diffusion (mass transfer), radiation and electric charge transfer in semiconductors. [3] [4] [5] [6]

Transport phenomena have wide application. For example, in solid state physics, the motion and interaction of electrons, holes and phonons are studied under "transport phenomena". Another example is in biomedical engineering, where some transport phenomena of interest are thermoregulation, perfusion, and microfluidics. In chemical engineering, transport phenomena are studied in reactor design, analysis of molecular or diffusive transport mechanisms, and metallurgy.

The transport of mass, energy, and momentum can be affected by the presence of external sources:

Commonalities among phenomena

An important principle in the study of transport phenomena is analogy between phenomena.


There are some notable similarities in equations for momentum, energy, and mass transfer [7] which can all be transported by diffusion, as illustrated by the following examples:

The molecular transfer equations of Newton's law for fluid momentum, Fourier's law for heat, and Fick's law for mass are very similar. One can convert from one transport coefficient to another in order to compare all three different transport phenomena. [8]

Comparison of diffusion phenomena
Transported quantityPhysical phenomenonEquation
Momentum Viscosity
(Newtonian fluid)
Energy Heat conduction
(Fourier's law)
Mass Molecular diffusion
(Fick's law)

(Definitions of these formulas are given below).

A great deal of effort has been devoted in the literature to developing analogies among these three transport processes for turbulent transfer so as to allow prediction of one from any of the others. The Reynolds analogy assumes that the turbulent diffusivities are all equal and that the molecular diffusivities of momentum (μ/ρ) and mass (DAB) are negligible compared to the turbulent diffusivities. When liquids are present and/or drag is present, the analogy is not valid. Other analogies, such as von Karman's and Prandtl's, usually result in poor relations.

The most successful and most widely used analogy is the Chilton and Colburn J-factor analogy. [9] This analogy is based on experimental data for gases and liquids in both the laminar and turbulent regimes. Although it is based on experimental data, it can be shown to satisfy the exact solution derived from laminar flow over a flat plate. All of this information is used to predict transfer of mass.

Onsager reciprocal relations

In fluid systems described in terms of temperature, matter density, and pressure, it is known that temperature differences lead to heat flows from the warmer to the colder parts of the system; similarly, pressure differences will lead to matter flow from high-pressure to low-pressure regions (a "reciprocal relation"). What is remarkable is the observation that, when both pressure and temperature vary, temperature differences at constant pressure can cause matter flow (as in convection) and pressure differences at constant temperature can cause heat flow. Perhaps surprisingly, the heat flow per unit of pressure difference and the density (matter) flow per unit of temperature difference are equal.

This equality was shown to be necessary by Lars Onsager using statistical mechanics as a consequence of the time reversibility of microscopic dynamics. The theory developed by Onsager is much more general than this example and capable of treating more than two thermodynamic forces at once. [10]

Momentum transfer

In momentum transfer, the fluid is treated as a continuous distribution of matter. The study of momentum transfer, or fluid mechanics can be divided into two branches: fluid statics (fluids at rest), and fluid dynamics (fluids in motion). When a fluid is flowing in the x-direction parallel to a solid surface, the fluid has x-directed momentum, and its concentration is υxρ. By random diffusion of molecules there is an exchange of molecules in the z-direction. Hence the x-directed momentum has been transferred in the z-direction from the faster- to the slower-moving layer. The equation for momentum transfer is Newton's law of viscosity written as follows:

where τzx is the flux of x-directed momentum in the z-direction, ν is μ/ρ, the momentum diffusivity, z is the distance of transport or diffusion, ρ is the density, and μ is the dynamic viscosity. Newton's law of viscosity is the simplest relationship between the flux of momentum and the velocity gradient.

Mass transfer

When a system contains two or more components whose concentration vary from point to point, there is a natural tendency for mass to be transferred, minimizing any concentration difference within the system. Mass Transfer in a system is governed by Fick's First Law: 'Diffusion flux from higher concentration to lower concentration is proportional to the gradient of the concentration of the substance and the diffusivity of the substance in the medium.' Mass transfer can take place due to different driving forces. Some of them are: [11]

This can be compared to Fick's Law of Diffusion, for a species A in a binary mixture consisting of A and B:

where D is the diffusivity constant.

Energy transfer

All processes in engineering involve the transfer of energy. Some examples are the heating and cooling of process streams, phase changes, distillations, etc. The basic principle is the first law of thermodynamics which is expressed as follows for a static system:

The net flux of energy through a system equals the conductivity times the rate of change of temperature with respect to position.

For other systems that involve either turbulent flow, complex geometries or difficult boundary conditions another equation would be easier to use:

where A is the surface area, : is the temperature driving force, Q is the heat flow per unit time, and h is the heat transfer coefficient.

Within heat transfer, two types of convection can occur:

Heat transfer is analyzed in packed beds, nuclear reactors and heat exchangers.



The study of transport processes is relevant for understanding the release and distribution of pollutants into the environment. In particular, accurate modeling can inform mitigation strategies. Examples include the control of surface water pollution from urban runoff, and policies intended to reduce the copper content of vehicle brake pads in the U.S. [12] [13]

See also

Related Research Articles

Molecular diffusion The thermal motion of liquid or gas particles at temperatures above absolute zero

Molecular diffusion, often simply called diffusion, is the thermal motion of all particles at temperatures above absolute zero. The rate of this movement is a function of temperature, viscosity of the fluid and the size (mass) of the particles. Diffusion explains the net flux of molecules from a region of higher concentration to one of lower concentration. Once the concentrations are equal the molecules continue to move, but since there is no concentration gradient the process of molecular diffusion has ceased and is instead governed by the process of self-diffusion, originating from the random motion of the molecules. The result of diffusion is a gradual mixing of material such that the distribution of molecules is uniform. Since the molecules are still in motion, but an equilibrium has been established, the end result of molecular diffusion is called a "dynamic equilibrium". In a phase with uniform temperature, absent external net forces acting on the particles, the diffusion process will eventually result in complete mixing.

Fluid dynamics Aspects of fluid mechanics involving flow

In physics and engineering, fluid dynamics is a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that describes the flow of fluids—liquids and gases. It has several subdisciplines, including aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. Fluid dynamics has a wide range of applications, including calculating forces and moments on aircraft, determining the mass flow rate of petroleum through pipelines, predicting weather patterns, understanding nebulae in interstellar space and modelling fission weapon detonation.

In fluid mechanics, the Rayleigh number (Ra) for a fluid is a dimensionless number associated with buoyancy-driven flow, also known as free or natural convection. It characterises the fluid's flow regime: a value in a certain lower range denotes laminar flow; a value in a higher range, turbulent flow. Below a certain critical value, there is no fluid motion and heat transfer is by conduction rather than convection.

In fluid dynamics, turbulence or turbulent flow is fluid motion characterized by chaotic changes in pressure and flow velocity. It is in contrast to a laminar flow, which occurs when a fluid flows in parallel layers, with no disruption between those layers.

Heat transfer Transport of thermal energy in physical systems

Heat transfer is a discipline of thermal engineering that concerns the generation, use, conversion, and exchange of thermal energy (heat) between physical systems. Heat transfer is classified into various mechanisms, such as thermal conduction, thermal convection, thermal radiation, and transfer of energy by phase changes. Engineers also consider the transfer of mass of differing chemical species, either cold or hot, to achieve heat transfer. While these mechanisms have distinct characteristics, they often occur simultaneously in the same system.

Boundary layer

In physics and fluid mechanics, a boundary layer is the layer of fluid in the immediate vicinity of a bounding surface where the effects of viscosity are significant. The liquid or gas in the boundary layer tends to cling to the surface.

Darcy's law is an equation that describes the flow of a fluid through a porous medium. The law was formulated by Henry Darcy based on results of experiments on the flow of water through beds of sand, forming the basis of hydrogeology, a branch of earth sciences.

Thermofluids is a branch of science and engineering encompassing four intersecting fields:

The heat transfer coefficient or film coefficient, or film effectiveness, in thermodynamics and in mechanics is the proportionality constant between the heat flux and the thermodynamic driving force for the flow of heat :

Thermal hydraulics is the study of hydraulic flow in thermal fluids. The area can be mainly divided into three parts: thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer, but they are often closely linked to each other. A common example is steam generation in power plants and the associated energy transfer to mechanical motion and the change of states of the water while undergoing this process. Thermal-hydraulic analysis can determine important parameters for reactor design such as plant efficiency and coolability of the system.

Schmidt number (Sc) is a dimensionless number defined as the ratio of momentum diffusivity and mass diffusivity, and is used to characterize fluid flows in which there are simultaneous momentum and mass diffusion convection processes. It was named after the German engineer Ernst Heinrich Wilhelm Schmidt (1892–1975).

Plume (fluid dynamics)

In hydrodynamics, a plume or a column is a vertical body of one fluid moving through another. Several effects control the motion of the fluid, including momentum (inertia), diffusion and buoyancy. Pure jets and pure plumes define flows that are driven entirely by momentum and buoyancy effects, respectively. Flows between these two limits are usually described as forced plumes or buoyant jets. "Buoyancy is defined as being positive" when, in the absence of other forces or initial motion, the entering fluid would tend to rise. Situations where the density of the plume fluid is greater than its surroundings, but the flow has sufficient initial momentum to carry it some distance vertically, are described as being negatively buoyant.

Transport Phenomena is the first textbook about transport phenomena. It is specifically designed for chemical engineering students. The first edition was published in 1960, two years after having been preliminarily published under the title Notes on Transport Phenomena based on mimeographed notes prepared for a chemical engineering course taught at the University of Wisconsin–Madison during the academic year 1957-1958. The second edition was published in August 2001. A revised second edition was published in 2007. This text is often known simply as BSL after its authors' initials.

The Reynolds Analogy is popularly known to relate turbulent momentum and heat transfer. That is because in a turbulent flow the transport of momentum and the transport of heat largely depends on the same turbulent eddies: the velocity and the temperature profiles have the same shape.

The turbulent Prandtl number (Prt) is a non-dimensional term defined as the ratio between the momentum eddy diffusivity and the heat transfer eddy diffusivity. It is useful for solving the heat transfer problem of turbulent boundary layer flows. The simplest model for Prt is the Reynolds analogy, which yields a turbulent Prandtl number of 1. From experimental data, Prt has an average value of 0.85, but ranges from 0.7 to 0.9 depending on the Prandtl number of the fluid in question.

The convection–diffusion equation is a combination of the diffusion and convection (advection) equations, and describes physical phenomena where particles, energy, or other physical quantities are transferred inside a physical system due to two processes: diffusion and convection. Depending on context, the same equation can be called the advection–diffusion equation, drift–diffusion equation, or (generic) scalar transport equation.

Diffusion movement of molecules, atoms, or ions from a region of high concentration to a region of low concentration

Diffusion is the net movement of anything from a region of higher concentration to a region of lower concentration. Diffusion is driven by a gradient in concentration.

Double diffusive convection

Double diffusive convection is a fluid dynamics phenomenon that describes a form of convection driven by two different density gradients, which have different rates of diffusion.

Equimolar counterdiffusion is an instance of molecular diffusion in a binary mixture, and occurs when equal numbers of molecules of the two substances are moving in opposite directions.

In fluid dynamics, the entrance length is the distance a flow travels after entering a pipe before the flow becomes fully developed. Entrance length refers to the length of the entry region, the area following the pipe entrance where effects originating from the interior wall of the pipe propagate into the flow as an expanding boundary layer. When the boundary layer expands to fill the entire pipe, the developing flow becomes a fully developed flow, where flow characteristics no longer change with increased distance along the pipe. Many different entrance lengths exist to describe a variety of flow conditions. Hydrodynamic entrance length describes the formation of a velocity profile caused by viscous forces propagating from the pipe wall. Thermal entrance length describes the formation of a temperature profile. Awareness of entrance length may be necessary for the effective placement of instrumentation, such as fluid flow meters.


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