Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Cooling Towers: Operating Principles and Systems

evaporative cooling tower made of HDPE plastic
Example of evaporative cooling tower, fabricated
from HDPE plastic to resist corrosion.
Image courtesy Delta Cooling Towers
The huge, perfectly shaped cylindrical towers stand tall amidst a landscape, with vapor billowing from their spherical, open tops into the blue sky. Such an image usually provokes a thought related to nuclear power or a mysterious energy inaccessible to the millions of people who drive by power plants every day. In reality, cooling towers – whether the hyperboloid structures most often associated with the aforementioned nuclear power plants or their less elegantly shaped cousins – are essential, process oriented tools that serve as the final step in removing heat from a process or facility. The cooling towers at power plants serve as both an adjuster of a control variable essential to the process and also as a fascinating component of the process behind power creation. The importance and applicability of cooling towers is extensive, making them fundamentally useful for industrial operations in power generation, oil refining, petrochemical plants, commercial/industrial HVAC, and process cooling.

In principle, an evaporative cooling tower involves the movement of a fluid, usually water with some added chemicals, through a series of parts or sections to eventually result in the reduction of its heat content and temperature. Liquid heated by the process operation is pumped through pipes to reach the tower, and then gets sprayed through nozzles or other distribution means onto the ‘fill’ of the tower, reducing the velocity of the liquid to increase the fluid dwell time in the fill area. The fill area is designed to maximize the liquid surface area, increasing contact between water and air. Electric motor driven fans force air into the tower and across the fill area. As air passes across the liquid surface, a portion of the water evaporates, transferring heat from the water to the air and reducing in the water temperature. The cooled water is then collected and pumped back to the process-related equipment allowing for the cycle to repeat. The process and associated dispersion of heat allows for the cooling tower to be classified as a heat rejection device, transferring waste heat from the process or operation to the atmosphere.

Evaporative cooling towers rely on outdoor air conditions being such that evaporation will occur at a rate sufficient to transfer the excess heat contained in the water solution. Analysis of the range of outdoor air conditions at the installation site is necessary to assure proper operation of the cooling tower throughout the year. Evaporative cooling towers are of an open loop design, with the fluid exposed to air.

A closed loop cooling tower, sometimes referred to as a fluid cooler, does not directly expose the heat transfer fluid to the air. The heat exchanger can take many forms, but a finned coil is common. A closed loop system will generally be less efficient that an open loop design because only sensible heat is recovered from the fluid in the closed loop system. A closed loop fluid cooler can be advantageous for smaller heat loads, or in facilities without sufficient technical staff to monitor or maintain operation of an evaporative cooling tower.

Thanks to their range of applications, cooling towers vary in size from the monolithic structures utilized by power plants to small rooftop units. Removing the heat from the water used in cooling systems allows for the recycling of the heat transfer fluid back to the process or equipment that is generating heat. This cycle of heat transfer enables heat generating processes to remain stable and secure. The cooling provided by an evaporative tower allows for the amount of supply water to be vastly lower than the amount which would be otherwise needed. No matter whether the cooling tower is small or large, the components of the tower must function as an integrated system to ensure both adequate performance and longevity. Understanding elements which drive performance - variable flow capability, potential HVAC ‘free cooling’, the splash type fill versus film type fill, drift eliminators, nozzles, fans, and driveshaft characteristics - is essential to the success of the cooling tower and its use in both industrial and commercial settings.

Design or selection of an evaporative cooling tower is an involved process, requiring examination and analysis of many facets. Share your heat transfer requirements and challenges with cooling tower specialists, combining your own facilities and process knowledge and experience with their application expertise to develop an effective solution.`

Friday, August 18, 2017

Thermodynamic Steam Traps

cutaway view thermodynamic steam trap
Cutaway view of disc type thermodynamic steam trap
Image courtesy of Spirax Sarco
Condensate return is an essential operation in any closed loop steam system. Steam that has lost its latent heat will collect in the piping system as hot liquid water (condensate). This liquid needs to be separated from the steam and returned to the boiler feedwater equipment without letting steam escape in the process.

Various items of steam utilization equipment and processes will result in condensate formation at different rates. The device that collects and discharges condensate to the return portion of the system is called a steam trap. There are numerous physical principals and technologies employed throughout the range of available steam trap types. Each has application limitations and strengths making them more or less suitable for a particular installation.

A thermodynamic steam trap relies on the energy provided by the condensate to move a disc which controls the flow of the condensate into the return system. The disc is the only moving part in the device. Condensate flows through a port to a chamber on the underside of the disc, lifting the disc and directing the flow to the return system or drain. Eventually, the fluid flowing into the chamber will reach a point where some of the condensate flashes to steam. A portion of this steam flows through a channel into the space above the disc, called the control chamber. The increase in pressure in the control chamber due to the steam influx pushes downward on the disc, seating it in a closed position. The trap, with the disc seated, remains in the closed position until the flash steam in the control chamber cools and condenses. Then the disc can be opened again by the inflow of condensate.

The thermodynamic disc trap is:

  • Easy to install
  • Compact
  • Resistant to damage from freezing
The single trap can cover a wide range of system pressure, and the simple construction translates into low initial cost. Properly matching any steam trap to its application is important. Share your condensate return and steam system challenges with specialists, combining your knowledge and experience with their product application expertise to develop effective solutions.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Orifice Plate - Primary Flow Element

orifice plate drawing
Orifice plates are simple in appearance, but exhibit
precision machining.
Image courtesy of Fabrotech Industries
An orifice plate, at its simplest, is a plate with a machined hole in it. Carefully control the size and shape of the hole, mount the plate in a fluid flow path, measure the difference in fluid pressure between the two sides of the plate, and you have a simple flow measurement setup. The primary flow element is the differential pressure across the orifice. It is the measurement from which flow rate is inferred. The differential pressure is proportional to the square of the flow rate.

An orifice plate is often mounted in a customized holder or flange union that allows removal and inspection of the plate. A holding device also facilitates replacement of a worn orifice plate or insertion of one with a different size orifice to accommodate a change in the process. While the device appears simple, much care is applied to the design and manufacture of orifice plates. The flow data obtained using an orifice plate and differential pressure depend upon well recognized characteristics of the machined opening, plate thickness, and more. With the pressure drop characteristics of the orifice fixed and known, the measuring precision for differential pressure becomes a determining factor in the accuracy of the flow measurement.

There are standards for the dimensional precision of orifice plates that address:
  • Circularity of the bore
  • Flatness
  • Parallelism of the faces
  • Edge sharpness
  • Surface condition
Orifice plates can be effectively "reshaped" by corrosion or by material deposits that may accumulate from the measured fluid. Any distortion of the plate surface or opening has the potential to induce measurable error. This being the case, flow measurement using an orifice plate is best applied with clean fluids.

Certain aspects of the mounting of the orifice plate may also have an impact on its adherence to the calibrated data for the device. Upstream and downstream pipe sections, concentric location of the orifice in the pipe, and location of the pressure measurement taps must be considered.

Properly done, an orifice plate and differential pressure flow measurement setup provides accurate and stable performance. Share your flow measurement challenges of all types with a specialist, combining your own process knowledge and experience with their product application expertise to develop an effective solution.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thermocompressor Breathes New Life into Low Pressure Waste Steam

steam thermocompressor
Steam Jet Thermocompressor from Spirax Sarco
mixes high pressure and low pressure steam supplies
Energy conservation and energy efficiency have contributed very large cost savings to many industrial and commercial operations over the past two decades. Projects with modest payback periods quickly begin their contributions directly to the bottom line of the balance sheet. In many instances, incorporating energy conservation and efficiency measures also improves the overall functioning of the consuming systems and equipment. In order to save energy, it is generally necessary to exercise better control over equipment or system operation by gathering more information about the current operating state. This additional information, gathered through measurement instrumentation, often finds use in other ways that improve productivity and performance.

Steam is utilized throughout many industries as a means of transferring heat, as well as a motive force. Much energy is consumed in the production of steam, so incorporating ways of recovering or utilizing the heat energy remaining in waste steam is a positive step in conservation.

A thermocompressor is a type of ejector that mixes high pressure steam with a lower pressure steam flow, creating a usable discharge steam source and conserving the latent heat remaining in the low pressure steam. The device is compact and simple, with no moving parts or special maintenance
thermocompressor labelled schematic
Schematic of basic thermocompressor, showing suction
inlet at the bottom and high pressure steam nozzle.
Image courtesy of Spirax Sarco
requirements. Two general varieties are available. The fixed nozzle style is intended for applications with minimal variation in the supply and condition of the suction steam (the low pressure steam). Some control is achievable through the regulation of the high pressure steam flow with an external control valve. A second style provides a means of regulating the cross sectional area through which the high pressure steam flows in the nozzle. This style is best applied when specific discharge flow or pressure is required, or there is significant variation in the inlet steam conditions.

Share all your steam system challenges with a steam system application specialist. Combine your own process and facilities knowledge and experience with their product application expertise to develop effective solutions.