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Cooling towers are heat rejection devices used to transfer process waste heat to the atmosphere. Cooling towers may either use the evaporation of water to reject process heat and cool the working fluid to near the wet-bulb air temperature or rely solely on air to cool the working fluid to near the dry-bulb air temperature. Common applications include cooling the circulating water used in oil refineries, chemical plants, power plants and building cooling. The towers vary in size from small roof-top units to very large hyperboloid structures (as in Image 1) that can be up to 200 metres tall and 100 metres in diameter, or rectangular structures (as in Image 2) that can be over 40 metres tall and 80 metres long. Smaller towers are normally factory-built, while larger ones are constructed on site.
Additional recommended knowledge
Classification by use
Cooling towers can generally be classified by use into either HVAC (air-conditioning) or industrial duty.
An HVAC cooling tower is a subcategory rejecting heat from a chiller. Water-cooled chillers are normally more energy efficient than air-cooled chillers due to heat rejection to tower water at near wet-bulb temperatures. Air-cooled chillers must reject heat to the dry-bulb temperature, and thus have a lower average reverse-Carnot cycle effectiveness. Large office buildings, hospitals, schools typically use one or more cooling towers as part of their air conditioning systems. Generally, industrial cooling towers are much larger than HVAC towers.
HVAC use of a cooling tower pairs the cooling tower with a water-cooled chiller or water-cooled condenser. A ton of air-conditioning is the rejection of 12,000 Btu/hour (12,661 kJ/hour). The equivalent ton on the cooling tower side actually rejects about 15,000 Btu/hour (15,826 kJ/hour) due to the heat-equivalent of the energy needed to drive the chiller's compressor. This equivalent ton is defined as the heat rejection in cooling 3 U.S. gallons/minute (1,500 pound/hour) of water 10°F, which amounts to 15,000 Btu/hour, or a chiller coefficient-of-performance (COP) of 4.0. This COP is equivalent to an energy efficiency ratio (EER) of 13.65.
Industrial cooling towers can be used to reject heat from various sources such as machinery or heated process material. The primary use of large, industrial cooling towers is to remove the heat absorbed in the circulating cooling water systems used in power plants, petroleum refineries, petrochemical plants, natural gas processing plants, food processing plants, semi-conductor plants, and other industrial facilities. The circulation rate of cooling water in a typical 700 MW coal-fired power plant with a cooling tower amounts to about 71,600 cubic metres an hour (315,000 U.S. gallons per minute) and the circulating water requires a supply water make-up rate of perhaps 5 percent (i.e., 3,600 cubic metres an hour).
If that same plant had no cooling tower and used once-through cooling water, it would require about 100,000 cubic metres an hour  and that amount of water would have to be continuously returned to the ocean, lake or river from which it was obtained and continuously re-supplied to the plant. Furthermore, discharging large amounts of hot water may raise the temperature of the receiving river or lake to an unacceptable level for the local ecosystem. A cooling tower serves to dissipate the heat into the atmosphere instead and wind and air diffusion spreads the heat over a much larger area than hot water can distribute heat in a body of water.
Some coal-fired and nuclear power plants located in coastal areas do make use of once-through ocean water. But even there, the offshore discharge water outlet requires very careful design to avoid environmental problems.
Petroleum refineries also have very large cooling tower systems. A typical large refinery processing 40,000 metric tonnes of crude oil per day (300,000 barrels per day) circulates about 80,000 cubic metres of water per hour through its cooling tower system.
The world's tallest cooling tower is the 200 metre tall cooling tower of Niederaussem Power Station.
Heat transfer methods
With respect to the heat transfer mechanism employed, the main types are:
In a wet cooling tower, the warm water can be cooled to a temperature lower than the ambient air dry-bulb temperature, if the air is relatively dry. (see: dew point and psychrometrics). As air is drawn past a flow of water, the two flows attempt to equalize. The air, if not saturated, absorbs additional water vapor, leaving less heat in the remaining water flow.
To achieve better performance (more cooling), a media called fill is used to increase the surface area between the air and water flows. Splash fill consists of material placed to interrupt the water flow causing splashing. Film fill is composed of thin sheets of material upon which the water flows. Both methods create increased surface area.
Air flow generation methods
With respect to drawing air through the tower, there are three types of cooling towers:
Hyperboloid (aka hyperbolic) cooling towers (Image 1) have become the design standard for all natural-draft cooling towers because of their structural strength and minimum usage of material. The hyperbolic form is popularly associated with nuclear power plants. However, this association is misleading, as the same kind of cooling towers are often used at large coal-fired power plants as well. Similarly, not all nuclear power plants have cooling towers.
Categorization by air-to-water flow
Crossflow is a design in which the air flow is directed perpendicular to the water flow (see diagram below). Air flow enters one or more vertical faces of the cooling tower to meet the fill material. Water flows (perpendicular to the air) through the fill by gravity. The air continues through the fill and thus past the water flow into an open plenum area. A distribution or hot water basin consisting of a deep pan with holes or nozzles in the bottom is utilized in a crossflow tower. Gravity distributes the water through the nozzles uniformly across the fill material.
In a counterflow design the air flow is directly opposite of the water flow (see diagram below). Air flow first enters an open area beneath the fill media and is then drawn up vertically. The water is sprayed through pressurized nozzles and flows downward through the fill, opposite to the air flow.
Common to both designs:
Both crossflow and counterflow designs can be used in natural draft and mechanical draft cooling towers.
Cooling tower as a flue gas stack (Industrial chimney)
At some modern power stations, equipped with flue gas purification like the Power Station Staudinger Grosskrotzenburg and the Power Station Rostock, the cooling tower is also used as a flue gas stack (industrial chimney). At plants without flue gas purification, this causes problems with corrosion.
Wet cooling tower material balance
Quantitatively, the material balance around a wet, evaporative cooling tower system is governed by the operational variables of makeup flow rate, evaporation and windage losses, draw-off rate, and the concentration cycles:
In the above sketch, water pumped from the tower basin is the cooling water routed through the process coolers and condensers in an industrial facility. The cool water absorbs heat from the hot process streams which need to be cooled or condensed, and the absorbed heat warms the circulating water (C). The warm water returns to the top of the cooling tower and trickles downward over the fill material inside the tower. As it trickles down, it contacts ambient air rising up through the tower either by natural draft or by forced draft using large fans in the tower. That contact causes a small amount of the water to be lost as windage (W) and some of the water (E) to evaporate. The heat required to evaporate the water is derived from the water itself, which cools the water back to the original basin water temperature and the water is then ready to recirculate. The evaporated water leaves its dissolved salts behind in the bulk of the water which has not been evaporated, thus raising the salt concentration in the circulating cooling water. To prevent the salt concentration of the water from becoming too high, a portion of the water is drawn off (D) for disposal. Fresh water makeup (M) is supplied to the tower basin to compensate for the loss of evaporated water, the windage loss water and the draw-off water.
A water balance around the entire system is:
Since the evaporated water (E) has no salts, a chloride balance around the system is:
From a simplified heat balance around the cooling tower:
Windage (or drift) losses (W) from large-scale industrial cooling towers, in the absence of manufacturer's data, may be assumed to be:
Cycles of concentration represents the accumulation of dissolved minerals in the recirculating cooling water. Draw-off (or blowdown) is used principally to control the buildup of these minerals.
The chemistry of the makeup water including the amount of dissolved minerals can vary widely. Makeup waters low in dissolved minerals such as those from surface water supplies (lakes, rivers etc.) tend to be aggressive to metals (corrosive). Makeup waters from ground water supplies (wells) are usually higher in minerals and tend to be scaling (deposit minerals). Increasing the amount of minerals present in the water by cycling can make water less aggressive to piping however excessive levels of minerals can cause scaling problems.
As the cycles of concentration increase the water may not be able to hold the minerals in solution. When the solubility of these minerals have been exceeded they can precipitate out as mineral solids and cause fouling and heat exchange problems in the cooling tower or the heat exchangers. The temperatures of the recirculating water, piping and heat exchange surfaces determine if and where minerals will precipitate from the recirculating water. Often a professional water treatment consultant will evaluate the makeup water and the operating conditions of the cooling tower and recommend an appropriate range for the cycles of concentration. The use of water treatment chemicals, pretreatment such as water softening, pH adjustment, and other techniques can affect the acceptable range of cycles of concentration.
Concentration cycles in the majority of cooling towers usually range from 3 to 7. In the United States the majority of water supplies are well waters and have significant levels of dissolved solids. On the other hand one of the largest water supplies, New York City, has a surface supply quite low in minerals and cooling towers in that city are often allowed to concentrate to 7 or more cycles of concentration.
Besides treating the circulating cooling water in large industrial cooling tower systems to minimize scaling and fouling, the water should be filtered and also be dosed with biocides and algaecides to prevent growths that could interfere with the continuous flow of the water. For closed loop evaporative towers, corrosion inhibitors may be used, but caution should be taken to meet local environmental regulations as some inhibitors use chromates.
Ambient conditions dictate the efficiency of any given tower due to the amount of water vapor the air is able to absorb and hold, as can be determined on a psychrometric chart.
Cooling towers and Legionnaires' disease
Another very important reason for using biocides in cooling towers is to prevent the growth of Legionella, including species that cause legionellosis or Legionnaires' disease, most notably L. pneumophilia. The various Legionella species are the cause of Legionnaires' disease in humans and transmission is via exposure to aerosols—the inhalation of mist droplets containing the bacteria. Common sources of Legionella include cooling towers used in open recirculating evaporative cooling water systems, domestic hot water systems, fountains, and similar disseminators that tap into a public water supply. Natural sources include freshwater ponds and creeks.
French researchers found that Legionella spread through the air up to 6 kilometres from a large contaminated cooling tower at a petrochemical plant in Pas-de-Calais, France. That outbreak killed 21 of the 86 people that had a laboratory-confirmed infection.
Drift (or windage) is the term for water droplets of the process flow allowed to escape in the cooling tower discharge. Drift eliminators are used hold drift rates typically to 0.001%-0.005% of the circulating flow rate. A typical drift eliminator provides multiple directional changes of airflow while preventing the escape of water droplets. A well-designed and well-fitted drift eliminator can greatly reduce water loss and potential for Legionella or other chemical exposure.
Many governmental agencies, cooling tower manufacturers and industrial trade organizations have developed design and maintenance guidelines for preventing or controlling the growth of Legionella in cooling towers. Below is a list of sources for such guidelines:
Cooling tower malfunctions
Under certain ambient conditions, plumes of water vapor (fog) can be seen rising out of the discharge from a cooling tower (see Image 1), and can be mistaken as smoke from a fire. If the outdoor air is at or near saturation, and the tower adds more water to the air, saturated air with liquid water droplets can be discharged -- what we see as fog. This phenomenon typically occurs on cool, humid days, but is rare in many climates.
Failures that let smaller amounts of water go the top of a cooling tower can cause a tower to freeze (especially if the fans are running at high speeds). If a roof-mounted cooling tower is allowed to freeze and build up ice, the ice can grow to massive sizes and can result in the tower falling through the roof (note: this assumes that the ice 'grows' beyond the typical liquid volume).
Typical methods to circumvent freezing are: air flow through the tower is reduced, a basin heater is installed, a heater is installed indoors on the water loop, a drain system or remote basin design is used, and in some cases where evaporative closed loop towers are used the tower spray water is drained completely.
Cooling Tower Operation In Freezing Weather
Cooling towers with malfunctions can freeze during very cold weather. Typically, freezing starts at the corners of a cooling tower with a reduced or absent heat load. Increased freezing conditions can create growing volumes of ice, resulting in increased structural loads. During the winter, some sites continuously operate cooling towers with 40 °F water leaving the tower. Basin heaters, tower draindown, and other freeze protection methods are often employed in cold climates.
Some commonly used terms in the cooling tower industry
Cooling towers which are constructed in whole or in part of combustible materials can support propagating internal fires. The resulting damage can be sufficiently severe to require the replacement of the entire cell or tower structure. For this reason, some codes and standards recommend combustible cooling towers be provided with an automatic fire sprinkler system. Fires can propagate internally within the tower structure during maintenance when the cell is not in operation (such as for maintenance or construction), and even when the tower is in operation, especially those of the induced-draft type because of the existence of relatively dry areas within the towers.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Cooling_tower". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|