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Thermodynamic Model and Initial Experimental Investigation of Air Dehumidification through Electrically Charged Vapor Capturing Electrostatic Droplets




Morcelli, Stefano

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Mechanical Engineering

Restriction Status


Restriction Type

Auburn University Users

Date Available



The removal of water vapor from the air to reduce relative humidity is a well known indoor environmental comfort requirement. Common dehumidification approaches require a substantial amount of energy and usually involve the cooling of atmospheric humid air below its dew point or the use of absorbent/adsorbent materials to extract water vapor out of the air. More recently, researchers investigated the effect of electrostatic forces for enhancing water vapor condensation with the goal to reduce the energy consumption associated with dehumidification. However, the studies are limited, and there is a lack of correlations that can predict the dehumidification rate. In this thesis, a broad theoretical investigation to study the electrostatically enhanced condensation processes was carried out. These processes consist of the use of highly charged particles, preferably highly charged water droplets to attract polar water vapor molecules to their surfaces and promote condensation, a phenomenon known as dielectrophoresis. The electrical charge promotes the reduction of the vapor pressure on the droplets' surface with respect to the saturated pressure predicted by the Kelvin equation on curved surfaces and, consequently, the equilibrium between evaporation and condensation is shifted towards condensation. This investigation resulted in the development of a thermodynamic model, which was able to predict an effective size range of the charged droplets for optimal dehumidification, under ideal conditions. The range resulted in about 2 to 4 Ξm in diameter, while the electrical charge was kept to the maximum limit predicted by the Rayleigh model. A sensitivity analysis on the variation of the size and the charge of the charged droplets was also performed. In terms of dehumidification rates, when six electrospray heads, i.e. the maximum number of heads tested in the experimental campaign, were considered, the model predicted very limited rates, way lower than the target of this research, i.e. a dehumidification rate in terms of relative humidity of 5 % with an air flow rate of 5 𝑐𝑓𝑚. While ways to increase this rate existed, their implementation proved difficult for this initial investigation. According to the requirements predicted by the model, the use of electrosprays appeared the most suitable solution for the production of small but highly charged droplets. The electrospray features and operational modes were studied in detail and an electrospray assembly was designed to be tested in this initial experimental investigation. For this initial investigation, an experimental system was designed and built to validate the thermodynamic model and with the goal to achieve a dehumidification rate of 5 % in terms of relative humidity with an air flow rate of 5 𝑐𝑓𝑚. The experimental system consisted of a wind tunnel test apparatus, dew point sensors, thermocouples for temperature measurements, pressure sensors and other devices. The experimental system was equipped with a computerized data acquisition and storage system. The system was suitable to evaluate the air water content differential before and after the test section where the electrospray heads were installed. The air water content differential was evaluated in terms of the ∆𝜔/𝜔1 ratio, to eliminate the dependence on the dry bulb temperature along the test apparatus. This work presented initial experimental data for electrostatically enhanced dehumidification processes. Working parameters, such as air and water flow rates, high voltage potentials and polarity, deionized water types with different electrical conductivity, were varied to find the best combination for an improved dehumidification. With the set up used and the conditions considered, it was never possible to achieve a 5 % dehumidification rate with 5 𝑐𝑓𝑚. In general, the dehumidification rate was always limited and lower than 1 % for all the air flow rates considered and mainly within the uncertainty of the dew point sensors. These results confirmed the already limited predictions of the thermodynamic model, for ideal conditions and the interesting and promising results obtained in some experimental investigations available in the open literature were not achievable in this thesis. The more probable reasons were the higher air flow rates considered and the complete absence of the use of cooling power, which was mainly implemented to facilitate the vapor condensation.