Significance of Heat Exchanger

A heat exchanger is a system used to transfer heat between two or more fluids. Heat exchangers are used in both cooling and heating processes. The fluids may be separated by a solid wall to prevent mixing or they may be in direct contact. They are widely used in space heating, refrigeration, air conditioning, power stations, chemical plants, petrochemical plants, petroleum refineries, natural-gas processing, and sewage treatment. The classic example of a heat exchanger is found in an internal combustion engine in which a circulating fluid known as engine coolant flows through radiator coils and air flows past the coils, which cools the coolant and heats the incoming air. Another example is the heat sink, which is a passive heat exchanger that transfers the heat generated by an electronic or a mechanical device to a fluid medium, often air or a liquid coolant.

There are three primary classifications of heat exchangers 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 the most efficient, in that it can transfer the most heat from the heat (transfer) medium per unit mass due to the fact that the average temperature difference along any unit length is higher.

  1. Double-pipe heat exchanger (a) when the other fluid flows into the annular gap between two tubes, one fluid flows through the smaller pipe. The flow may be a current flow or parallel flow in a double pipe heat exchanger. (b) Parallel flow, where at the same point, the hot and cold liquids join, flow in the same direction and exit at the same end.(c) Counter flow, where at opposite ends, hot and cold fluids join, flow in the opposite direction and exit at opposite ends.
  2. Shell-and-tube heat exchanger. The main constituents of this type of heat exchanger seem to be the tube box, shell, the front rear end headers, and baffles or fins.
  3. Plate Heat Exchanger A plate heat exchanger contains an amount of thin shaped heat transfer plates bundled together. The gasket arrangement of each pair of plates provides two separate channel system. Each pair of plates form a channel where the fluid can flow through. The pairs are attached by welding and bolting methods. The following shows the components in the heat exchanger.
  4. Condensers and Boilers Heat exchangers using a two-phase heat transfer system are condensers, boilers and evaporators. Condensers are instruments that take and cool hot gas or vapor to the point of condensation and transform the gas into a liquid form. The point at which liquid transforms to gas is called vaporization and vice versa is called condensation. Surface condenser is the most common type of condenser where it includes a water supply device. Figure 5 below displays a two-pass surface condenser.

To select an appropriate heat exchanger, the system designers (or equipment vendors) would firstly consider the design limitations for each heat exchanger type. Though cost is often the primary criterion, several other selection criteria are important:

  • High/low pressure limits
  • Thermal performance
  • Temperature ranges
  • Product mix (liquid/liquid, particulates or high-solids liquid)
  • Fluid flow capacity
  • Cleanability, maintenance and repair
  • Materials required for construction
  • Ability and ease of future expansion
  • Material selection, such as copper, aluminium, carbon steel, stainless steel, nickel alloys, ceramic, polymer, and titanium.

Heat exchangers are widely used in industry both for cooling and heating large scale industrial processes. The type and size of heat exchanger used can be tailored to suit a process depending on the type of fluid, its phase, temperature, density, viscosity, pressures, chemical composition and various other thermodynamic properties.

In many industrial processes there is waste of energy or a heat stream that is being exhausted, heat exchangers can be used to recover this heat and put it to use by heating a different stream in the process. This practice saves a lot of money in industry, as the heat supplied to other streams from the heat exchangers would otherwise come from an external source that is more expensive and more harmful to the environment.

Heat exchangers are used in many industries, including:

  • Waste water treatment
  • Refrigeration
  • Wine and beer making
  • Petroleum refining
  • Nuclear power

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