The importance of heat and mass transfer additives in absorption chillers and heat pumps has been recognized for over three decades. However, a universally accepted model for the mechanisms responsible for enhanced absorption rates has yet to be proposed. The Marangoni effect — an instability arising from gradients in surface tension at the liquid-vapor interface — is generally accepted as the cause of the convective flows that enhance transfer rates. Certain surfactant additives can significantly improve absorption rates and thus reduce the overall transfer area required by a given machine. Any means available that can increase the efficiency and acceptability of absorption machines is to be welcomed, as this technology provides an alternative to vapor compression systems which is both environmentally friendly and more versatile with regards to energy sources.

This study investigates the rate at which a surfactant additive adsorbs at a liquid-vapor interface. The residence time of the falling liquid solution in an absorber is quite short. An effective additive must not only reduce the surface tension of the solution; it must do so quickly enough to cause the Marangoni instability within the short absorption process time. The entrance region of an absorber features a freshly exposed interface at which no surfactant has adsorbed.

A numerical model is used to analyze surfactant relaxation rates in a static film of additive-laced solution. Kinetic parameters for the combination of the working pair LiBr-H2O and the additive 2-ethyl-1-hexanol are derived from data in the literature for static and dynamic surface tension measurements. Bulk, interfacial and boundary parameters influencing relaxation rates are discussed for surfactant adsorption occurring in the absence of absorption, as well as for concurrent adsorption and stable vapor absorption. Initial solution conditions and absorption driving force are shown to impact the potential for instability in the effect they have on the rate of interfacial additive adsorption.

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