6 Jun


Heat exchangers are found in most chemical or mechanical systems.  They serve as the system’s means of gaining or rejecting heat.Some of the more common applications  are found in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, radiators  on internal combustion engines, boilers, condensers, and as preheaters or coolers in fluid systems.   This chapter will review some specific heat exchanger applications. The intent is to provide several specific examples of how each heat exchanger functions in the system, not to cover every possible applicaton.

This chapter describes some specific applications of heat exchangers.


In large steam systems, or in any process requiring high temperatures, the input fluid is usually preheated in stages, instead of trying to heat it in one step from ambient to the final temperature. Preheating in stages  increases  the plant’s  efficiency and minimizes  thermal shock stress  to components, as compared to injecting ambient temperature liquid into a boiler or other device that operates at high temperatures.  In the case of a steam system, a portion of the process steam is tapped off and used as a heat source to reheat the feedwater in preheater stages.  Figure 8 is an example of the construction and internals of a U-tube feedwater heat exchanger found in a large power generation facility in a preheater stage.  As the steam enters the heat exchanger and flows over and around the tubes, it transfers its thermal energy and is condensed.  Note that the steam enters from the top into the shell side of the heat exchanger, where it not only transfers sensible heat (temperature change) but also gives up its latent heat of vaporization (condenses steam into water).  The condensed steam then exits  as  a liquid at the bottom of the heat exchanger.  The feedwater enters the heat exchanger on the bottom right end and flows into the tubes.  Note that most of these tubes will be below the fluid level on the shell side.

This means the feedwater is exposed to the condensed steam first and then travels through the tubes and back around to the top right end of the heat exchanger.  After making the 180  bend, the partially heated feedwater is then subjected to the hotter steam entering the shell side.

The feedwater is further heated by the hot steam and then exits the heat exchanger.  In this type of heat exchanger, the shell side fluid level is very important in determining the efficiency of the heat exchanger, as the shell side fluid level determines the number of tubes exposed to the hot steam.


Commonly,  heat  exchangers  are  thought  of  as  liquid-to-liquid  devices  only.     But  a  heat exchanger is any device that transfers heat from one fluid to another.  Some of a facility’s equipment depend on air-to-liquid heat exchangers.   The most familiar example of an air-to- liquid heat exchanger is a car radiator.  The coolant flowing in the engine picks up heat from the engine block and carries it to the radiator.  From the radiator, the hot coolant flows into the tube side of the radiator (heat exchanger).  The relatively cool air flowing over the outside of the tubes picks up the heat, reducing the temperature of the coolant.

Because air is such a poor conductor of heat, the heat transfer area between the metal of the radiator and the air must be maximized.  This is done by using fins on the outside of the tubes. The fins improve the efficiency of a heat exchanger and are commonly found on most liquid-to- air heat exchangers and in some high efficiency liquid-to-liquid heat exchangers.

A ir C onditioner E vaporator and C ondenser

All air conditioning systems contain at least two heat exchangers, usually called the evaporator and the condenser.  In either case, evaporator or condenser, the refrigerant flows into the heat exchanger and transfers heat, either gaining or releasing it to the cooling medium.  Commonly, the cooling medium is  air or water.          In the case of  the condenser, the hot, high pressure refrigerant gas must be condensed to a subcooled liquid.

The condenser accomplishes this by cooling the gas, transferring its heat to either air or water. The cooled gas then condenses into a liquid.  In the evaporator, the subcooled refrigerant flows into the heat  exchanger, but  the heat  flow is  reversed,  with the  relatively cool  refrigerant absorbing heat from the hotter air flowing on the outside of the tubes.  This cools the air and boils the refrigerant.

L arge Steam System  C ondensers

The steam condenser, shown in Figure 9, is a major component of the steam cycle in power generation facilities.  It is a closed space into which the steam exits the turbine and is forced to give up its latent heat of vaporization.  It is a necessary component of the steam cycle for two reasons. One, it converts the used steam back into water for return to the steam generator or boiler as feedwater.   This lowers the operational cost of the plant by allowing the clean and treated condensate to be reused, and it is far easier to pump a liquid than steam.  Two, it increases the cycle’s efficiency by allowing the cycle to operate with the largest possible delta- T and delta-P between the source (boiler) and the heat sink (condenser).

Because condensation is taking place, the term latent heat of condensation is used instead of latent heat of vaporization. The steam’s  latent heat of condensation is  passed to the water flowing through the tubes of the condenser.

After the steam condenses, the saturated liquid continues to transfer heat to the cooling water as it falls to the bottom of the condenser, or hotwell.   This is called subcooling, and a certain amount is desirable. A few degrees subcooling prevents condensate pump cavitation.     The difference between the saturation temperature for the existing condenser vacuum and the temperature of the condensate is termed condensate depression.  This is expressed as a number of  degrees  condensate  depression  or  degrees  subcooled. Excessive  condensate  depression decreases  the  operating  efficiency  of  the  plant  because  the  subcooled  condensate  must  be reheated in the boiler, which in turn requires more heat from the reactor, fossil fuel, or other heat source.

There are different condenser designs, but the most common, at least in the large power generation facilities, is the straight-through, single-pass condenser illustrated Figure 9. This condenser design provides cooling water flow through straight tubes from the inlet water box on one end, to the outlet water box on the other end.  The cooling water flows once through the condenser and is termed a single pass.   The separation between the water box areas and the steam condensing area is accomplished by a tube sheet to which the cooling water tubes are attached. The cooling water tubes are supported within the condenser by the tube support sheets. Condensers normally have a series of baffles that redirect the steam to minimize direct impingement on the cooling water tubes.  The bottom area of the condenser is the hotwell, as shown in Figure 9.   This is where the condensate collects and the condensate pump takes its suction. If noncondensable gasses  are allowed to build up in the condenser, vacuum will decrease and the saturation temperature at which the steam will condense increases.

Non-condensable gasses also blanket the tubes of the condenser, thus reducing the heat transfer surface area of the condenser.  This surface area can also be reduced if the condensate level is allowed to rise over the lower tubes of the condenser.  A reduction in the heat transfer surface has the same effect as a reduction in cooling water flow.  If the condenser is operating near its design capacity, a reduction in the effective surface area results in difficulty maintaining condenser vacuum.

The temperature and flow rate of the cooling water through the condenser controls the temperature of the condensate.   This in turn controls the saturation pressure (vacuum) of the condenser.

To prevent the condensate level from rising to the lower tubes of the condenser, a hotwell level control system may be employed. Varying the flow of the condensate pumps is one method used to accomplish hotwell level control.   A level sensing network controls the condensate pump speed or pump discharge flow control valve position.   Another method employs an overflow system that spills water from the hotwell when a high level is reached.

Condenser vacuum should be maintained as close to 29 inches Hg as practical.   This allows maximum expansion of the steam, and therefore, the maximum work.   If the condenser were perfectly air-tight (no air or noncondensable gasses present in the exhaust steam), it would be necessary only to condense the steam and remove the condensate to create and maintain a vacuum.  The sudden reduction in steam volume, as it condenses, would maintain the vacuum. Pumping the water from the condenser as fast as it is formed would maintain the vacuum.  It is, however, impossible to prevent the entrance of air and other noncondensable gasses into the condenser.    In addition, some method must exist to initially cause a vacuum to exist in the condenser.   This necessitates the use of an air ejector or vacuum pump to establish and help maintain condenser vacuum.

Air ejectors are essentially jet pumps or eductors, as illustrated in Figure 10.  In operation, the jet pump has two types of fluids.  They are the high pressure fluid that flows through the nozzle, and the fluid being pumped which flows around the nozzle into the throat of the diffuser.  The high  velocity  fluid  enters  the  diffuser  where  its  molecules  strike  other  molecules. These molecules are in turn carried along with the high velocity fluid out of the diffuser creating a low pressure area around the mouth of the nozzle.   This process is called entrainment.   The low pressure area will draw more fluid from around the nozzle into the throat of the diffuser.  As the fluid moves down the diffuser, the increasing area converts the velocity back to pressure.  Use of steam at a pressure between 200 psi and 300 psi as the high pressure fluid enables a single- stage air ejector to draw a vacuum of about 26 inches Hg.

Normally, air ejectors consist of two suction stages.  The first stage suction is located on top of the condenser, while the second stage suction comes from the diffuser of the first stage.  The exhaust steam from the second stage must be condensed.  This is normally accomplished by an air ejector condenser that is cooled by condensate.  The air ejector condenser also preheats the condensate returning to the boiler.  Two-stage air ejectors are capable of drawing vacuums to

29 inches Hg.

A vacuum pump may be any type of motor-driven air compressor.  Its suction is attached to the condenser, and it discharges to the atmosphere.                                  A common type uses rotating vanes in an elliptical housing.  Single-stage, rotary-vane units are used for vacuums to 28 inches Hg.  Two stage units can draw vacuums to 29.7 inches Hg.  The vacuum pump has an advantage over the air ejector in that it requires no source of steam for its operation.  They are normally used as the initial source of vacuum for condenser start-up.

Sum m ary

The important information from this chapter is summarized below.

H eat E xcha ng er A pplications S um m a ry

Heat exchangers are often used in the following applications.



Air conditioning evaporator and condenser

Steam condenser

The purpose of a condenser is to remove the latent heat of vaporization, condensing the vapor into a liquid.

Heat exchangers condense the steam vapor into a liquid for return to the boiler.

The cycle’s efficiency is increased by ensuring the maximum   T between the source and the heat sink.

The hotwell is the area at the bottom of the condenser where the condensed steam is collected to be pumped back into the system feedwater.

Condensate depression is the amount the condensate in a condenser is cooled below saturation (degrees subcooled).

Condensers operate at a vacuum to ensure the temperature (and thus the pressure) of the steam is as low as possible.  This maximizes the                                T and    P between the source and the heat sink, ensuring the highest cycle efficiency possible.

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