Types of Heat Exchangers in Oil & Gas – Applications & How They Work
October 8, 2019 Welcome
A notable by-product of many industrial and manufacturing processes is heat. While thermal energy may be beneficial to some production processes, it may also cause significant damage to sensitive machinery and control systems if improperly regulated.
Most industrial systems have mechanisms in place to dissipate excessive heat. A popular thermoregulation device employed in this regard is a heat exchanger. Simply put, this is a device that removes unwanted heat from the industrial process that helps keep production temperatures within optimal ranges.
This article details the benefits of heat exchangers, how these devices function and how they can be effectively applied in various oil and gas production processes.
What Is a Heat Exchanger?
An industrial heat exchanger is a device that is specially designed for heat transfer between different media. One medium is process fluid and the other is a heat-absorbing coolant comprised of chilled liquid or gas.
What Does a Heat Exchanger Do?
Typically, this piece of equipment removes the heat generated by an industrial process helping to cool it off and prevent an unchecked rise in production temperature.
Alternately, a heat exchanger may also be used to heat a production reaction where higher process temperatures are required. This function of a heat exchanger is less commonly employed than its application in industrial cooling.
How Does a Heat Exchanger Work?
Heat exchangers function by bringing a cooled fluid into close contact with a hot industrial process or piece of equipment. This allows for an exchange of the heat between the two mediums by using the principles of thermal heat conduction.
In some cases, the media (coolant and heated process) are in direct contact but for the majority of heat exchanger types, there is usually a separating barrier between them.
Classification of Heat Exchangers
Industrial heat exchangers can be classified into three broad groups based on:
- The manner of heat exchange
- The physical states of the interacting fluids
- The design/ flow pattern of the heat exchanger
The Manner of Heat Exchange
Industrial heat exchangers may be categorized depending on how the hot and cold fluids interact.
- Direct heat exchangers place both fluids in direct contact with one another within a tubing system. Although this method is highly effective, it cannot be used in situations where the two fluids may create a volatile mixture or alter the results of an industrial process.
- Indirect heat exchangers keep the cooled and heated fluids separate from one another and heat exchange occurs across a physical barrier.
The Physical States of the Interacting Fluids
Thermal exchangers may also be divided into various categories based on the physical state of the interacting media into:
- Gas-Solid exchangers
- Liquid – Gas exchangers
- Liquid-Solid exchangers
The Design/ Flow Pattern of the Heat Exchanger
Industrial heat exchangers come in different designs with varied patterns of heat exchange flow. The main types are considered below.
- Parallel flow heat exchangers have a design that allows both the cool and heated fluids to move in the same direction.
- Counter-flow heat exchangers are designed to allow both the heated and cooling fluids to enter from opposite ends of the device. This is the most effective method of heat exchange. This design permits the most efficient heat conduction between the interacting fluids per unit mass.
- Crossflow heat exchangers drive the heated process fluid and coolant in directions that are perpendicular to each other.
Types of Heat Exchangers Used in the Oil and Gas Industry
The application of heat exchangers in industrial processes is critical to ensuring optimal productivity. In the oil and gas sector. Where are heat exchangers used across the industry?
Different types of heat exchangers suited to different applications are currently available and the most common variants are outlined below.
Shell and Tube Exchangers
A shell and tube heat exchanger is essentially a collection of tubes enclosed within a pressurized outer shell. This device works by channeling one fluid (typically from the hot process) through the smaller tubes and the other through the outer shell to achieve heat exchange.
Evaporators and Boilers
These heat exchangers undergo a biphasic heat transfer process which changes the physical state of one or more of the fluids involved.
Double Pipe Thermal Exchangers
The double pipe heat exchanger set up consists of two concentric pipes; a smaller diameter pipe running within a larger one, which brings two fluids into proximity. For maximum efficiency, the heated and cooled fluids circulating within both pipes are driven in opposite “counter-current” directions.
Plate Heat Exchangers
Plate heat exchange devices are composed of several thin plates arranged together in stacks. These plates create channels through which the interacting fluids can flow.
While typical plate exchangers allow for heat exchange between just two fluid media, variation such as the plate-fin exchanger permits multiple fluid streams through its parts. The pillow-plate exchanger variant raises the pressure within the exchange system to improve efficiency.
Heat Exchanger Applications in Oil and Gas
The various types of heat exchangers available play key roles in the oil and gas production processes listed below:
- Hot oil/heat transfer systems
- Fuel gas conditioning skids
- Cold ammonia flow control
- Lube oil systems
- SCR units
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