The oscillating heat pipe (OHP) is a new member in the family of heat pipes, and it has great potential applications in energy conservation. However, the fluid flow and heat transfer in the OHP as well as the fundamental effects of inner diameter on them have not been fully understood, which are essential to the design and optimization of the OHP in real applications. Therefore, by combining the high-speed visualization method and infrared thermal imaging technique, the fluid flow and thermal performance in the OHPs with inner diameters of 1, 2 and 3 mm are presented and analyzed. The results indicate that three fluid flow motions, including small oscillation, bulk oscillation and circulation, coexist or, respectively, exist alone with the increasing heating load under different inner diameters, with three flow patterns occurring in the OHPs, viz. bubbly flow, slug flow and annular flow. These fluid flow motions are closely correlated with the heat and mass transfer performance in the OHPs, which can be reflected by the characteristics of infrared thermal images of condensers. The decrease in the inner diameter increases the frictional flow resistance and capillary instability while restricting the nucleate boiling in OHPs, which leads to a smaller proportion of bubbly flow, a larger proportion of short slug flow, a poorer thermal performance, and easier dry-out of working fluid. In addition, when compared with the 2 mm OHP, the increasing role of gravity induces the thermosyphon effect and weakens the ‘bubble pumping’ action, which results in a little smaller and bigger thermal resistances of 3 mm OHP under small and bulk oscillation of working fluid, respectively.
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