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Directional Passive Transport of Microdroplets in Oil-Infused Diverging Channels for Effective Condensate Removal

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posted on 24.05.2018, 00:00 by Hongxia Li, Ablimit Aili, Mohamed H. Alhosani, Qiaoyu Ge, TieJun Zhang
Condensation widely exists in nature and industry, and its performance heavily relies on the efficiency of condensate removal. Recent advances in micro-/nanoscale surface engineering enable condensing droplet removal from solid surfaces without extra energy cost, but it is still challenging to achieve passive transport of microdroplets over long distances along horizontal surfaces. The mobility of these condensate droplets can be enhanced by lubricant oil infusion on flat surfaces and frequent coalescence, which lead to fast growth but random motion of droplets. In this work, we propose a novel design of diverging microchannels with oil-infused surfaces to achieve controllable, long-distance, and directional transport of condensing droplets on horizontal surfaces. This idea is experimentally demonstrated with diverging copper and silicon microchannels with nanoengineered surfaces. Along these hierarchical surface structures, microdroplets condense on the top channel wall and submerge into microchannels owing to the capillary pressure gradient in infusing oil. Confined by the microchannel walls, the submerged droplets deform and maintain the back-front curvature difference, which enables the motion of droplets along the channel diverging direction. Subsequent droplet coalescences inside the channel further enhance this directional transport. Moreover, fast-moving deformed droplets transfer their momentum to downstream spherical droplets through the infusing oil. As a result, simultaneous passive transport of multiple droplets (20–400 μm) is achieved over long distances (beyond 7 mm). On these oil-infused surfaces, satellite microdroplets can further nucleate and grow on an oil-cloaked droplet, demonstrating an enlarged surface area for condensation. Our findings on passive condensate removal offer great opportunities in condensation enhancement, self-cleaning, and other applications requiring directional droplet transport along horizontal surfaces.