Heat Flux Measurement Techniques in Experiments

What is a Heat Flux Sensor (HFS)?

  • A heat flux sensor is a device designed to measure the rate of heat transfer per unit area, known as heat flux.
  • Heat flux is a crucial parameter in various scientific, engineering, and industrial applications where understanding and quantifying the transfer of heat are essential.
  • These sensors provide valuable data for optimizing designs, evaluating thermal performance, and ensuring the efficiency and safety of systems.

Principle of Operation

    • Heat flux sensors work based on the fundamental principle of measuring temperature differences across a surface.
    • The rate at which heat flows through the material or surface is directly proportional to the temperature gradient across it.
    • The working principle of a heat flux sensor depends on the specific type of sensor, as different technologies are employed for measuring heat transfer. Here are the working principles of some common types of heat flux sensors:
Working Principle of Heat Flux Sensors
Working Principle of Heat Flux Sensors

Applications of HF Sensors

    • Heat flux sensors find applications in a wide range of fields, including:
      • Building Sciences: Assessing energy efficiency in buildings by measuring heat flux through walls and windows.
      • Electronics Cooling: Monitoring and optimizing heat dissipation in electronic devices.
      • Material Testing: Characterizing the thermal properties of materials in aerospace, automotive, and other industries.
      • Biomedical Research: Studying heat transfer in biological tissues for medical applications.
      • Industrial Processes: Monitoring heat transfer in manufacturing and chemical processes.
      • Environmental Studies: Investigating heat flux in natural systems for environmental research.
      • Fire Safety: Studying heat flux during fire experiments to improve fire-resistant materials and safety measures.
  1. Applications of Heat Flux Sensors
    Applications of Heat Flux Sensors

Techniques of Heat Flux Measurement 

  • Thermal heat flux measurement is crucial in various fields, including materials science, engineering, and environmental science.
  • Heat flux refers to the rate of heat transfer per unit area, and measuring it accurately is essential for understanding and optimizing thermal processes.
  • Here are some common techniques for measuring thermal heat flux:
  1. Heat Flux Sensors:
    • Thin-Film Sensors:
    • Thin-film heat flux sensors are placed on the surface of the material to measure the temperature gradient. Examples include thermocouples, resistive temperature devices (RTDs), and thermistors.
    • Heat Flux Plates: These are devices that can be mounted on a surface to directly measure the heat flux. They typically consist of multiple temperature sensors and a heat flux transducer.
  2. Transient Methods:
    • Transient Plane Source (TPS) Method: This method involves placing a flat sensor (often a thin disc) between two layers of the material. The sensor is heated, and the temperature rise is used to calculate thermal conductivity and, subsequently, heat flux.
    • Transient Hot Wire (THW) Method: In this method, a thin wire is heated, and the temperature response is measured. The rate of temperature change is used to calculate heat flux.
  3. Calorimetry:
    • Calorimeters: Calorimetry involves measuring the temperature change in a material or fluid due to heat transfer. This can be used to calculate the heat flux.
    • Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC): DSC measures the heat flux associated with phase transitions and chemical reactions, providing information about heat flow.
  4. Infrared Thermography:
    • Infrared Cameras: Infrared thermography allows for non-contact measurement of surface temperatures. By capturing temperature variations across a surface, the heat flux can be inferred.
    • Thermographic Phosphors: Certain materials emit visible light in response to temperature changes, and this luminescence can be used to determine heat flux.
  5. Convection and Fluid Flow Methods:
    • Fluid Flow Heat Transfer: Measuring the temperature change of a fluid as it flows through a system provides information about the heat transfer and, consequently, the heat flux.
    • Surface Temperature and Fluid Flow Measurements: Combining surface temperature measurements with fluid flow data allows for the determination of convective heat flux.
  6. Numerical Simulation:
    • Finite Element Analysis (FEA): Computational methods, such as FEA, can simulate heat transfer in complex geometries. While not a direct measurement technique, FEA can be used to estimate heat flux based on thermal simulations.

Types of Heat Flux Sensors

  • The general idea behind heat flux sensors is to detect the effects of temperature changes caused by the flow of heat and convert this information into a measurable signal.
  • The specific working principle depends on the type of sensor and the underlying technology.
  • It’s important to note that while some heat flux sensors directly measure heat flux, others may measure temperature differences and then use mathematical relationships (such as Fourier’s law) to calculate heat flux.
  • The choice of a particular heat flux sensor depends on the application requirements, such as accuracy, sensitivity, and the nature of the material or system being studied.

Thin-Film Sensors

  •  In this methods, thermocouples, RTDs, Thermistor are used to measure heat flux proportional to voltage generated by temperature sensors
  • These sensors are based on the principle that the electrical properties of certain materials change with temperature.
  • When the sensor is placed on a surface experiencing a temperature gradient, the temperature difference causes a change in electrical properties. This change is then correlated with the heat flux.
Highly Sensitive Flexible Heat Flux Sensor
Highly Sensitive Flexible Heat Flux Sensor

Heat Flux Plates:

  • Heat flux plates typically consist of temperature sensors embedded in a plate placed on the surface of interest.
  • The temperature difference across the plate is measured, and the heat flux is calculated using Fourier’s law of heat conduction.
Heat flux sensor plate
Heat flux sensor plate


  • Thermo piles are made up of multiple thermocouples connected in series.
  • When exposed to a temperature gradient, each thermo-couple generates a voltage.
  • The total voltage generated is proportional to the heat flux
  • The Seebeck effect, which describes the generation of an electromotive force in a circuit due to a temperature difference, is fundamental to the operation of thermophiles.

Fluid-Based Sensors (Liquid Crystals, Thermochromic Materials):

  • These sensors exploit the color changes of materials in response to temperature variations.
  • By analyzing the color changes, the temperature difference is determined, and heat flux can be calculated.

Capacitive Heat Flux Sensors:

  • These sensors operate based on changes in capacitance due to temperature differences.
  • The capacitance of the sensor changes with temperature, and this change is used to calculate heat flux.

Microfabricated Sensors (MEMS):

  • MEMS-based heat flux sensors use microscale structures and materials.
  • The sensors can be designed to respond to temperature changes, and the resulting mechanical or electrical responses are then correlated with heat flux.

Heat Flux Transducer For High Temperature Applications
Heat Flux Transducer For High Temperature Applications

Heat Flux Transducer

  • A heat flux transducer is a device designed to measure the rate of heat transfer per unit area, known as heat flux
  • This device converts the heat transfer rate into an electrical signal.
  • Heat flux transducers are used in various scientific, industrial, and engineering applications where understanding and monitoring heat transfer are crucial.
  • These transducers are often incorporated into systems to measure and analyze the thermal performance of materials, components, or entire systems. Here are some key features and aspects of heat flux transducers
  • The core principle behind heat flux transducers involves detecting the thermal gradient across a surface and converting it into an electrical signal. Various technologies, including thermocouples, thermopiles, and resistive temperature devices (RTDs), may be employed depending on the specific design and application.

Applications Heat Flux Transducer

Heat flux transducers find applications in various fields:

  • Building Science: Assessing the thermal performance of building materials.
  • Electronics: Monitoring heat dissipation in electronic devices.
  • Aerospace: Evaluating thermal characteristics of materials in aircraft and spacecraft.
  • Energy Systems: Studying heat transfer in power generation and conversion systems.
  • Biomedical Research: Investigating thermal effects on biological tissues

Heat Flux Input for CFD Modeling

  • In Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modeling, specifying accurate and realistic boundary conditions for heat transfer modeling, including heat flux, is crucial for obtaining meaningful and reliable results.
  • Heat flux is the rate of heat transfer per unit area and is a key parameter in thermal analysis.
  • Here’s how you can specify heat flux as an input for CFD modeling

Definition of Heat Flux and Boundary:

  • Heat flux () is defined as the amount of heat energy transferred per unit area per unit time.
  • It is expressed in units of watts per square meter (W/m²).
  • Mathematically, heat flux is given by the equation:


where is the thermal conductivity,

is the temperature, and

               ∂T/ is the temperature gradient normal to the boundary.

Specifying Heat Flux Boundary Conditions

  • In CFD software, you typically need to specify heat flux boundary conditions at the surfaces where heat transfer occurs.
  • This involves defining the magnitude and direction of heat flux at these boundaries.
  • The heat flux can be applied as a constant value, a function of time, or dependent on other variables.
  • Identify the surfaces or boundaries in your CFD model where heat flux needs to be applied.
  • This could be the external surfaces of the object or specific internal surfaces where heat transfer is significant.

Understand the Physical Situation:

  • Have a clear understanding of the physical situation you are modeling.
  • Know whether the heat flux is constant, varies with time, or is dependent on other parameters.
  • Consider the direction and distribution of heat flux on the surfaces.

Steady-State or Transient Analysis:

  • Determine whether your analysis is steady-state or transient
  • . For steady-state simulations, the heat flux remains constant with time, while for transient simulations, it can vary with time.

. Specify Heat Flux Values:

  • Assign specific values or functions to represent the heat flux on the specified surfaces.
  • These values could be based on experimental data, theoretical calculations, or engineering specifications.

Check Units and Consistency:

  • Ensure that the units of the specified heat flux values are consistent with the units used in your CFD simulation.
  • Common units for heat flux are watts per square meter (W/m²) or kilowatts per square meter (kW/m²).

Account for Heat Flux  Direction:

  • Heat flux has both magnitude and direction as it is a vector quantity given in the post.
  • Be mindful of the direction of the heat flux vector, especially when dealing with anisotropic materials or non-uniform heat sources.
The spread of Fire in a Room is an example of a heat flux vector
The spread of Fire in a Room is an example of a heat flux vector

Consider Convection and Radiation:

  • If applicable, consider not only conductive heat flux but also convective and radiative heat flux, especially for external surfaces exposed to a fluid or radiation.
  • Convective and radiative heat transfer need to be calibrated during its testing
heat Transfer modelling
heat transfer modeling

Input Methods:

  • In CFD software, you typically input heat flux either directly or by specifying the temperature distribution on the surfaces.
  • The software then calculates the heat flux based on the temperature gradient.

Monitor Convergence:

  • During the simulation, monitor the convergence of the solution. If the heat flux is part of an iterative process, make sure that the simulation converges to a stable solution.

Validate with Experiments:

  • Verify that the heat flux boundary conditions are consistent with the physical system you are simulating.
  • Cross-check with experimental data or known analytical solutions if available to validate the accuracy of your inputs.

Example in CFD Software

  • Always refer to the documentation of the specific CFD software you are using for detailed instructions on how to specify heat flux boundary conditions.
  • In ANSYS Fluent, you would typically define heat flux through the following steps:
  1. Define the material properties.
  2. Specify the boundary conditions for the surfaces of interest, including heat flux values.
  3. Run the simulation and post-process the results.



  • When choosing a method for thermal heat flux measurement, factors such as the nature of the material, the required accuracy, and the experimental conditions should be considered.
  • Often, a combination of measurement techniques is used to validate results and provide a more comprehensive understanding of heat transfer in a system.
  • Heat flux transducers play a critical role in understanding thermal behavior and optimizing the design and performance of various systems where heat transfer is a key consideration.


  1. Tian eta l., Highly Sensitive Heat Flux Sensors for High Temperature, Springer Nature (2023)
  2. AZOl, Heat Flux Sensors, Editor 2023)

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