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The conduction is the transport of energy in a medium due to a temperature gradient, and the
physical mechanism is one of random atomic or molecular activity.

In “Chapter 1” we learned that conduction heat transfer is governed by Fourier’s law and that use of
the law to determine the heat flux depends on knowledge of the manner in which temperature varies
within the medium (the temperature distribution). We restricted our attention to simplified
conditions (one-dimensional, steady-state conduction in a plane wall). However, Fourier’s law is
applicable to transient, multidimensional conduction in complex geometries.
The objectives of this chapter are twofold.
- First, we wish to develop a deeper understanding of Fourier’s law. What are its origins? What
form does it take for different geometries? How does its proportionality constant (the thermal
conductivity) depend on the physical nature of the medium?
- And our second objective is to develop, from basic principles, the general equation, termed the
heat equation, which governs the temperature distribution in a medium. The solution to this
equation provides knowledge of the temperature distribution, which may then be used with
Fourier’s law to determine the heat flux.

2.1 The Conduction Rate Equation

Fourier’s law is phenomenological; that is, it is developed from observed phenomena rather than
being derived from first principles. Hence, we view the rate equation as a generalization based on
much experimental evidence. For example, consider the steady-state conduction experiment of
Figure 2.1. A cylindrical rod of known material is insulated on its lateral surface, while its end faces
are maintained at different temperatures, with T1 > T2. The temperature difference causes conduction
heat transfer in the positive x-direction. We are able to measure the heat transfer rate qx, and we seek

to determine how qx depends on the following variables: ΔT, the temperature difference; Δx, the rod
length; and A, the cross-sectional area.
We might imagine first holding ΔT and Δx constant and varying A. If we do so, we find that qx is
directly proportional to A. Similarly, holding ΔT and A constant, we observe that qx varies inversely
with Δx. Finally, holding A and Δx constant, we find that qx is directly proportional to ΔT. The
collective effect is then

In changing the material (e.g., from a metal to a plastic), we would find that this proportionality
remains valid. However, we would also find that, for equal values of A, Δx, and ΔT, the value of qx
would be smaller for the plastic than for the metal. This suggests that the proportionality may be
converted to equality by introducing a coefficient that is a measure of the material behavior. Hence,
we write

where k, the thermal conductivity (W/m _ K) is an important property of the material. Evaluating this
expression in the limit as Δx 0, we obtain for the heat rate

Recall that the minus sign is necessary because heat is always transferred in the direction of decreasing

Each of these expressions relates the heat flux across a surface to the temperature gradient in a
direction perpendicular to the surface. It is also implicit in Equation 2.3 that the medium in which the
conduction occurs is isotropic. For such a medium, the value of the thermal conductivity is
independent of the coordinate direction.

Fourier’s law is the cornerstone of conduction heat transfer, and its key features are summarized as
- It is not an expression that may be derived from first principles; it is instead a generalization
based on experimental evidence.
- It is an expression that defines an important material property, the thermal conductivity.
- In addition, Fourier’s law is a vector expression indicating that the heat flux is normal to an
isotherm and in the direction of decreasing temperature.
- Finally, note that Fourier’s law applies for all matter, regardless of its state (solid, liquid, or

2.2 The Thermal Properties of Matter

To use Fourier’s law, the thermal conductivity of the material must be known. This property, which is referred to as a
transport property, provides an indication of the rate at which energy is transferred by the diffusion process. It
depends on the physical structure of matter, atomic and molecular, which is related to the state of the matter. In this
section we consider various forms of matter, identifying important aspects of their behavior and presenting typical
property values.

2.2.2 Thermal Diffusivity

In our analysis of heat transfer problems, it will be necessary to use several properties of matter.
These properties are generally referred to as thermophysical properties and include two distinct
categories, transport and thermodynamic properties.

The transport properties include the diffusion rate coefficients such as k, the thermal conductivity
(for heat transfer), and ν, the kinematic viscosity (for momentum transfer).

Thermodynamic properties, on the other hand, pertain to the equilibrium state of a system. Density
(ρ) and specific heat (cp) are two such properties used extensively in thermodynamic analysis. The
product ρcp (J/m3K) commonly termed the volumetric heat capacity, measures the ability of a
material to store thermal energy. Because substances of large density are typically characterized by
small specific heats, many solids and liquids, which are very good energy storage media, have

comparable heat capacities (ρcp > 1 MJ/m3 K). Because of their very small densities, however, gases
are poorly suited for thermal energy storage (ρcp ≈ 1 kJ/m3K). Densities and specific heats are
provided in the tables of Appendix A for a wide range of solids, liquids, and gases.

In heat transfer analysis, the ratio of the thermal conductivity to the heat capacity is an important
property termed the thermal diffusivity α, which has units of m2/s:

It measures the ability of a material to conduct thermal energy relative to its ability to store thermal
energy. Materials of large α will respond quickly to changes in their thermal environment, whereas
materials of small α will respond more sluggishly, taking longer to reach a new equilibrium

2.3 The Heat Diffusion Equation

A major objective in a conduction analysis is to determine the temperature field in a medium

resulting from conditions imposed on its boundaries. That is, we wish to know the temperature
distribution, which represents how temperature varies with position in the medium. Once this
distribution is known, the conduction heat flux at any point in the medium or on its surface may be
computed from Fourier’s law. The temperature distribution could be used to optimize the thickness
of an insulating material or to determine the compatibility of special coatings or adhesives used with
the material.

Consider a homogeneous medium within which there is no bulk motion (advection) and the
temperature distribution T(x, y, z) is expressed in Cartesian coordinates. Following the methodology
of applying conservation of energy (Section 1.3.1), we first define an infinitesimally small
(differential) control volume, dx×dy×dz, as shown in Figure 2.11. Choosing to formulate the first
law at an instant of time, the second step is to consider the energy processes that are relevant to this
control volume. In the absence of motion (or with uniform motion), there are no changes in
mechanical energy and no work being done on the system. Only thermal forms of energy need be
considered. Specifically, if there are temperature gradients, conduction heat transfer will occur across
each of the control surfaces. The conduction heat rates perpendicular to each of the control surfaces
at the x-, y-, and z-coordinate locations are indicated by the terms qx, qy, and qz, respectively. The
conduction heat rates at the opposite surfaces can then be expressed as a Taylor series expansion
where, neglecting higher-order terms,

Self-Study: Spherical coordinates and cylindrical coordinate, the general form of

the heat flux vector and Fourier’s law

Solution (part-1)

3. The time rate of change of the temperature at any point in the medium may be determined from the heat
equation, Equation 2.21,

here q = ̇ =1000W/m3

Equation 2.21, rewritten as


From this result, it is evident that the temperature at every point within the wall is decreasing with
time. The Fourier’s law can always be used to compute the conduction heat rate from knowledge of
the temperature distribution, even for unsteady conditions with internal heat generation.

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