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Keywords:

  • microdroplet;
  • microchannel junction;
  • coalescence;
  • critical capillary number;
  • film drainage theory

Microdroplet coalescence mechanism is very important for the miniaturization of multiphase chemical processes with microstructured devices. Using three working systems with different physical properties, this article presents an experimental study on the fluid dynamics of microdroplet coalescence at different microchannel junctions. The critical capillary number to distinguish coalescence or noncoalescence of microdroplet is investigated and its variations with droplet size, collision angle, and physical properties are analyzed with two important parameters – the film drainage time and droplet contact time. Experimental results indicate that microdroplet coalescence can be enhanced by reducing the droplet collision angle. The differences of microdroplet coalescences in confined microchannels and free-flowing spaces are provided with the analysis of critical capillary number. A model equation is proposed to predict the critical capillary numbers in this study, which may provide valuable information for the design and development of new microstructured chemical device. © 2012 American Institute of Chemical Engineers AIChE J, 59: 643–649, 2013