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The Principles of Heat Transfer

and Microporous Insulation

Heat Transfer
Heat transfer from hot regions to
cold regions takes place
whenever there is a temperature
The rate at which heat flows
from hot to cold depends on
many factors, but there will
always be some flow.
The shape of the temperature
gradient is defined by the
conditions (hot and cold face
temperatures, thermal
conductivity of barrier, heat
capacity and thickness of
material etc.).


Hot face

Cold face

Hot face


Cold face

Steady State Conditions

For any system at steady state:
heat entering system + heat generated by system = heat leaving system

Good insulator Poor insulator

Transient Conditions
During transient conditions the system sees a net gain or loss in heat

Both sides of wall
at ambient temp

T = 10 mins
Radiator started
but heat has not
reached cold side
of wall

T = 30 mins
Cold side of wall
warming up

T = 60 mins
Steady state

Heat Transfer Mechanisms

The transfer of heat from a region of higher temperature to a region of
lower temperature occurs by three basic mechanisms.
Conduction in a solid, a liquid, or a gas is the movement of heat
through a material by the transfer of kinetic energy between atoms or
Convection in a gas or a liquid is the bulk movement of fluid caused
by the tendency for hot areas to rise due to their lower density.
Radiation is the dissemination of electromagnetic energy from a
source. This does not require any intervening medium and occurs
most efficiently through a vacuum.
Generally, all three mechanisms work simultaneously, combining to
produce the overall heat transfer effect. The thermal conductivity of
a material is a physical property which describes its ability to transfer

Control of Heat Transfer

Heat transfer is controlled by using an insulation material which
has a low thermal conductivity.
To be truly effective, it must act as a barrier to all mechanisms of
heat transfer.


is a microporous thermal insulation with

unusual properties which other common insulation materials do not


approaches the lowest theoretically possible

thermal conductivity even lower than that of still air.
All the physical properties of mICROTHERm are designed to
provide maximum resistance to the transfer of heat across it.

Thermal Conductivity of
Solids, Liquids and Gases
Microtherm VIP
Other solids





100000 1000000

Thermal Conductivity (mW/mK)

All materials transfer heat by conduction as their component atoms
or molecules exchange energy through collisions.
Solids are the most effective conductors of heat. Although the
atoms in a solid have fixed positions, they constantly vibrate and
interact with their neighbours. In hot areas the atoms vibrate more
strongly, so the interactions tend to pass energy to cooler regions
resulting in heat flow. Some solids conduct heat much better than
others, depending on the way the atoms are bonded together.
Liquids are generally less good conductors of heat than solids.
The interactions are weaker than in solids and this makes energy
transfer less efficient.
Gases are very poor conductors of heat. The atoms or molecules
are widely separated and interact rarely compared to solids and

Heat Flow in Conduction

Steady state unidirectional heat flux is defined by the Fourier Law
and given by the equation:
q = - k dT
q = heat flux in W/m 2
k = thermal conductivity in W/m.K
dT = temperature difference in K
dx = distance across section in m

Conduction Through a
Heated Rod
(lots of vibration)

(not much vibration)

Heat travels
along the rod

Microporous Insulation
Control of Solid Conduction
Solid conduction is minimised by:
Using solids with low intrinsic thermal conductivity.


insulation is formed largely from amorphous

silica particles with a low intrinsic TC of 1.4 W/mK.
Having a low ratio of solid particles to void space.

mICROTHERm insulation is about 90% void space.

Using very fine particles to increase the path length of solid
conduction across the material.
The amorphous silica in mICROTHERm insulation has a
fundamental particle size of 5-25 nanometers.

Gaseous Conduction
Gaseous conduction at atmospheric pressure is much less efficient
than solid conduction because interactions between molecules are
less frequent. However, it is still an important heat transfer
When a gas molecule collides with another gas molecule, energy is
exchanged. This is an efficient way of transferring heat through a

Gaseous-Solid Heat Transfer

When a gas molecule hits a solid, energy is not transferred
efficiently from the gas to the solid. Instead, the gas molecule
bounces off retaining its energy.
A good insulator will minimise gaseous conduction by ensuring
that a maximum number of collisions a gas molecule undergoes are
with solid surfaces instead of with other gas molecules.

Microporous Insulation
Control of Gaseous Conduction
The average distance travelled by a molecule between collisions with
other gas molecules is defined as the mean free path of the gas.
To effectively prevent gaseous collisions the average pore size
should be smaller than the mean free path of the gas (60 nm in air at
0C). This is the definition of a microporous insulation.
Due to the extremely small particle size of the
silica particles (5-25 nm), the pore size in
mICROTHERm meets this criterion.
However, up to 80% of thermal conductivity
through mICROTHERm at room
temperature occurs by this mechanism. This is
still much less than other insulation materials.
Mean free path of gas molecule

Convection is heat transfer by bulk
movement within a heated fluid
such as a liquid or a gas.
Free convection is caused by
expansion of fluids when heated,
causing hot regions to become
buoyant. Circulation occurs as the
hot fluid cools and sinks down
Free convection systems can be
very large and convey massive
amounts of heat, for instance in
weather systems and the circulation
of molten rock inside the Earth.

Radiators make use of

convection to transfer the heat
from hot materials (water, night
storage bricks) to a room.

Rate of Convective Heat Transfer

In 1701, Newton observed that the rate of cooling of an object was
proportional to the difference in temperature between the object
and its surroundings and proposed Newtons Law of Cooling.
q = hc (ts tf)
q = heat flux in W/m 2
hc= convection heat transfer coefficient in W/m2.K
ts = temperature of hot surface in K
tf = temperature of fluid in K
Convection is the principal
means by which an object
loses heat to its surroundings
at relatively low temperatures.

The Convection Heat

Transfer Coefficient hc
The convection heat transfer
coefficient hc can be greatly
increased by forcing fluid past the
hot surface, for instance by using a
fan or a pump. This is called forced
convection. Heat transfer rates can
be increased by a factor of 10-20 in
this way.
hc depends on the surface geometry,
the fluid motion, the viscosity of the
fluid, and several other properties.
It can be calculated from first
principles, approximated, or taken
from standard tables.

Free convection patterns

around a hot ball

Boundary Layers in Convection

Fluid motion at velocity v

Velocity = v


Velocity = 0


Heat transfer at the surface takes
place by conduction, not
convection, because the fluid
velocity is zero. Convection
becomes more important away
from the surface.

The change in temperature is largest

close to the surface. The temperature
boundary layer may not be the same
thickness as the velocity boundary
layer, but the rate of change of
temperature depends on the rate of
change of fluid velocity.

The Langmuir Equations

Convection rates in air can be calculated approximately using
versions of the Langmuir equation;
Qc = 1.9468 (ts t0)1.25

Free convection

Qc = 1.9468 (ts t0)1.25 ((v + 0.35) / 0.35)0.5

Forced convection

Qc = Heat transferred by convection in W/m2

ts = temperature of surface in K
t0 = external air temperature in K
v = air velocity parallel to surface in m/s
These equations are valid for temperature differences up to 30 K
and air velocities not more than 3 m/s.

Microporous Insulation
Control of Convection
Gaseous convection is easily eliminated as a heat transfer
mechanism through all common insulation materials by making the
average void space in the structure small enough that convection
currents cannot form.
The higher the temperature in the material, the smaller the voids
need to be.

mICROTHERm has extremely small voids and convection

currents cannot form within them even at the highest temperatures

the material can withstand.
Although convection has little effect on the performance of
insulation materials, convection effects must be taken into account
in thermal calculations for determining cold face temperatures.

Infra-Red Radiation
Radiation is heat transfer by the emission of electromagnetic waves
which carry energy away from the emitting object.
Radiative heat losses from a surface increase rapidly with
temperature as defined by the Stefan-Boltzmann equation.
q = (T4surface - T4surroundings)
q = radiative heat flux in W/m2
= emissivity of the surface (between 0 and 1, depending on the material)
= Stefan-Boltzmann constant in W/m2K4
Tsurface = temperature of object in K
Tsurroundings = temperature of surroundings in K
Infra-red radiation is the principal mode of heat loss at
temperatures above about 100 C

Heat Losses From Brick by

Different Mechanisms

Heat loss (kW/sq m)








Brick temperature (deg C)



Ambient temperature 298 K

Radiation and Temperature

Most heat from an object is radiated in the infra-red region of the
spectrum, which is not visible to the human eye. As the material
gets hotter, the radiation is emitted at shorter wavelengths; first
red, then yellow, then white. At extremely high temperatures the
radiation can even be blue or ultraviolet. This is the source of
ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which causes sunburn.

Increasing heat

Microporous Insulation
Control of Infra-Red Radiation
mICROTHERm insulation includes thermally stable metal oxide

opacifiers of controlled particle size distribution. The particle diameter

is sized to be about the same as the wavelength of the incident
The opacifier particles scatter the infra-red radiation and so reduce
transmission to the lowest possible levels.
Scattered radiation

Incident radiation

Opacifier particles

Effect of Opacifier on
Performance of Microporous Silica
Opacifiers are the reason for the low slope in the
mICROTHERm thermal conductivity curve.

Thermal conductivity (W/m.K)


Aerosil silica 100%







Mean temperature (deg C)



mICROTHERm and Other High

Temperature Insulators

Microporous insulation has the lowest

thermal conductivity of any insulating
material under atmospheric conditions,
even better than that of still air.
At high temperatures the differential
between mICROTHERm and nonmicroporous insulations becomes very