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Heat exchanger

A heat exchanger is a device built for efficient heat transfer from one fluid to another, whether the fluids are separated by a solid wall so that they never mix, or the fluids are directly contacted.[1] They are widely used in petroleum refineries, chemical plants, petrochemical plants, natural gas processing, refrigeration, power plants, air conditioning and space heating. One common example of a heat exchanger is the radiator in a car, in which a hot engine-cooling fluid, like antifreeze, transfers heat to air flowing through the radiator.

Additional recommended knowledge


Flow arrangement

  Heat exchangers may be classified according to their flow arrangement. In parallel-flow heat exchangers, the two fluids enter the exchanger at the same end, and travel in parallel to one another to the other side. In counter-flow heat exchangers the fluids enter the exchanger from opposite ends. The counter current design is most efficient, in that it can transfer the most heat. See countercurrent exchange. In a cross-flow heat exchanger, the fluids travel roughly perpendicular to one another through the exchanger.

For efficiency, heat exchangers are designed to maximize the surface area of the wall between the two fluids, while minimizing resistance to fluid flow through the exchanger. The exchanger's performance can also be affected by the addition of fins or corrugations in one or both directions, which increase surface area and may channel fluid flow or induce turbulence.

The driving temperature across the heat transfer surface varies with position, but an appropriate mean temperature can be defined. In most simple systems this is the log mean temperature difference (LMTD). Sometimes direct knowledge of the LMTD is not available and the NTU method is used.

Types of heat exchangers

Shell and Tube heat exchanger

A typical heat exchanger, usually for higher-pressure applications, is the shell and tube heat exchanger which consists of a series of tubes, through which one of the fluids runs. The second fluid runs over the tubes to be heated or cooled. The set of tubes is called tube bundle, and may be composed of several types of tubes: plain, logitudinally finned, etc.


Plate heat exchanger

Main article: Plate heat exchanger

Another type of heat exchanger is the plate heat exchanger. One is composed of multiple, thin, slightly-separated plates that have very large surface areas and fluid flow passages for heat transfer. This stacked-plate arrangement can be more effective, in a given space, than the shell and tube heat exchanger. Advances in gasket and brazing technology have made the plate type heat exchanger increasingly practical. In HVAC applications, large heat exchangers of this type are called plate-and-frame; when used in open loops, these heat exchangers are normally of the gasketed type to allow periodic disassembly, cleaning, and inspection. There are many types of permanently-bonded plate heat exchangers such as dip-brazed and vacuum-brazed plate varieties, and they are often specified for closed-loop applications such as refrigeration. Plate heat exchangers also differ in the types of plates that are used, and the configurations of those plates. Some plates may be stamped with "chevron" or other patterns, where others may have machined fins and/or grooves.

Regenerative heat exchanger

A third type of heat exchanger is the regenerative heat exchanger. In this, the heat from a process is used to warm the fluids to be used in the process, and the same type of fluid is used either side of the heat exchanger. (These heat exchangers can be either plate and frame or shell and tube construction.)These exchangers are used only for gases and not for liquids.The major factor for this is the heat capacity of the heat transfer matrix. Also see: Countercurrent exchange, Regenerator, Economizer

Adiabatic Wheel heat exchanger

A fourth type of heat exchanger uses an intermediate fluid or solid store to hold heat, which is then moved to the other side of the heat exchanger to be released. Two examples of this are adiabatic wheels, which consist of a large wheel with fine threads rotating through the hot and cold fluids, and fluid heat exchangers. This type is used when it is acceptable for a small amount of mixing to occur between the two streams. See also: Air preheater.

Fluid heat exchangers

This is a heat exchanger with a gas passing upwards through a shower of fluid (often water), and the fluid is then taken elsewhere before being cooled. This is commonly used for cooling gases whilst also removing certain impurities, thus solving two problems at once. It is widely used in espresso machines as an energy-saving method of cooling super-heated water to be used in the extraction of espresso.

Dynamic Scraped surface heat exchanger

Another type of heat exchanger is called dynamic heat exchanger or scraped surface heat exchanger. This is mainly used for heating or cooling with high viscosity products, crystallization processes, evaporation and high fouling applications. Long running times are achieved due to the continuous scraping of the surface, thus avoiding fouling and achieving a sustainable heat transfer rate during the process.

Phase-change heat exchangers


In addition to heating up or cooling down fluids in just a single phase, heat exchangers can be used either to heat a liquid to evaporate (or boil) it or used as condensers to cool a vapor and condense it to a liquid. In chemical plants and refineries, reboilers used to heat incoming feed for distillation towers are often heat exchangers. [2][3]

Distillation set-ups typically use condensers to condense distillate vapors back into liquid.

Power plants which have steam-driven turbines commonly use heat exchangers to boil water into steam. Heat exchangers or similar units for producing steam from water are often called boilers.

In the nuclear power plants called pressurized water reactors, special large heat exchangers which pass heat from the primary (reactor plant) system to the secondary (steam plant) system, producing steam from water in the process, are called steam generators. All fossil-fueled and nuclear power plants using steam-driven turbines have surface condensers to convert the exhaust steam from the turbines into condensate (water) for re-use.[4][5]

In order to conserve energy and cooling capacity in chemical and other plants, regenerative heat exchangers can be used to transfer heat from one stream that needs to be cooled to another stream that needs to be heated, such as distillate cooling and reboiler feed pre-heating.

This term can also refer to heat exchangers that contain a material within their structure that has a change of phase. This is usually a solid to liquid phase due to the small volume difference between these states. This change of phase effectively acts as a buffer because it occurs at a constant temperature but still allows for a the heat exchanger to accept additional heat. One example where this has been investigated is for use in high power aircraft electronics.

HVAC air coils

One of the widest uses of heat exchangers is for air conditioning of buildings and vehicles. This class of heat exchangers is commonly called air coils, or just coils due to their often-serpentine internal tubing. Liquid-to-air, or air-to-liquid HVAC coils are typically of modified crossflow arrangement. In vehicles, heat coils are often called heater cores.

On the liquid side of these heat exchangers, the common fluids are water, a water-glycol solution, steam, or a refrigerant. For heating coils, hot water and steam are the most common, and this heated fluid is supplied by boilers, for example. For cooling coils, chilled water and refrigerant are most common. Chilled water is supplied from a chiller that is potentially located very far away, but refrigerant must come from a nearby condensing unit. When a refrigerant is used, the cooling coil is the evaporator in the vapor-compression refrigeration cycle. HVAC coils that use this direct-expansion of refrigerants are commonly called DX coils.

On the air side of HVAC coils a significant difference exists between those used for heating, and those for cooling. Due to psychrometrics, air that is cooled often has moisture condensing out of it, except with extremely dry air flows. Heating some air increases that airflow's capacity to hold water. So heating coils need not consider moisture condensation on their air-side, but cooling coils must be adequately designed and selected to handle their particular latent (moisture) as well as the sensible (cooling) loads. The water that is removed is called condensate.

For many climates, water or steam HVAC coils can be exposed to freezing conditions. Because water expands upon freezing, these somewhat expensive and difficult to replace thin-walled heat exchangers can easily be damaged or destroyed by just one freeze. As such, freeze protection of coils is a major concern of HVAC designers, installers, and operators.

The introduction of indentations (1/08/1934) placed within the heat exchange fins controlled condensation, allowing water molecules to remain in the cooled air. This invention allowed for refrigeration without icing of the cooling mechanism. Inventor John C. Raisley Patent number 2,046,968 issued July 7th 1936[6]

The heat exchangers in direct-combustion furnaces, typical in many residences, are not 'coils'. They are, instead, gas-to-air heat exchangers that are typically made of stamped steel sheet metal. The combustion products pass on one side of these heat exchangers, and air to be conditioned on the other. A cracked heat exchanger is therefore a dangerous situation requiring immediate attention because combustion products are then likely to enter the building.


Due to the many variables involved, selecting optimal heat exchangers is challenging. Hand calculations are possible, but many iterations are typically needed. As such, heat exchangers are most often selected via computer programs, either by system designers, who are typically engineers, or by equipment vendors.

Monitoring and maintenance

Condition monitoring of heat exchanger tubes may be conducted through Nondestructive methods such as eddy current testing.

The mechanics of water flow and deposits are often simulated by computational fluid dynamics or CFD. Fouling is a serious problem in some heat exchangers. River water is often used as cooling water, which results in biological debris entering the heat exchanger and building layers, decreasing the heat transfer coefficient. Another common problem is scale, which is made up of deposited layers of chemicals such as calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate.

Plate heat exchangers need to be dissembled and cleaned periodically. Tubular heat exchangers can be cleaned by such methods as acid cleaning, sandblasting, high-pressure water jet, bullet cleaning, or drill rods.

In large-scale cooling water systems for heat exchangers, water treatment such as purification, addition of chemicals, and testing, is used to minimize fouling of the heat exchange equipment. Other water treatment is also used in steam systems for power plants, etc. to minimize fouling and corrosion of the heat exchange and other equipment.

A variety of companies have started using waterborne oscillations technology to prevent biofouling. Without the use of chemicals, this type of technology has helped in providing a low-pressure drop in heat exchangers.

Heat exchangers in nature

Heat exchangers occur naturally in the circulation system of whales. Arteries to the skin carrying warm blood are intertwined with veins from the skin carrying cold blood causing the warm arterial blood to exchange heat with the cold venous blood. This reduces overall heat loss by the whale when diving in cold waters. Heat exchangers are also present in the tongue of baleen whales as large volumes of water flow through their mouths[1][2]. Wading birds use a similar system to limit heat losses from their body through their legs into the water.

In species that have external testes (such as humans), the artery to the testis is surrounded by a mesh of veins called the pampiniform plexus. This cools the blood heading to the testis, while reheating the returning blood.

See also

  • Reboiler
  • Steam generator (nuclear power)
  • Heat pump
  • Architectural engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Heat recovery ventilation
  • Log mean temperature difference (LMTD)


  1. ^ Sadik Kakaç and Hongtan Liu (2002). Heat Exchangers: Selection, Rating and Thermal Design, 2nd Edition, CRC Press. ISBN 0849309026. 
  2. ^ Kister, Henry Z. (1992). Distillation Design, 1st Edition, McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-034909-6. 
  3. ^ Perry, Robert H. and Green, Don W. (1984). Perry's Chemical Engineers' Handbook, 6th Edition, McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-049479-7. 
  4. ^ Air Pollution Control Orientation Course from website of the Air Pollution Training Institute
  5. ^ Energy savings in steam systems Figure 3a, Layout of surface condenser (scroll to page 11 of 34 pdf pages)
  6. ^ Patent 2,046,968 John C Raisley
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Heat_exchanger". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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