What are Industrial Cooling Towers? How Do They Work?

13 December 2019

Industrial cooling towers couldn’t work without evaporative cooling technology. However, there’s a world of difference between a so-called swamp cooling evaporative appliance and a mighty industrial tower. Not to state the obvious too plainly, the industrial model is built on a whole other scale. It’s surrounded by a concrete column that’s several storeys tall, and it encapsulates a far more intricate assemblage of working machinery. First things first, then, industrial cooling towers function as large-scale heat exchangers.

Across-The-Board Heat Exchanger Scalability

In the simplest possible terms, they’re designed to swap energy between water streams and air currents, hence the open concrete column surrounding the equipment. When air passes through the water-cooled stacking, which is a special set of high-efficiency water carrying sponges of sorts, it absorbs energy from the media and the water cools. The now warmer air exits the tower by rising on a series of thermal currents. The water-soaked packing simply creates a high-surface-area contact architecture within a remarkably small space, so this heat exchanging effect is fully maximized.

Designed To Relocate Internal Equipment Heat

This is the issue, the fact that high-capacity power plants and manufacturing facilities generate copious quantities of thermal energy. Where does this energy go? It’s not as if industrial-scale heat can be dissipated by opening a few windows or turning on a small air conditioner unit. The answer is Industrial-sized evaporative cooling, which requires one or more outdoors-installed concrete towers to channel the heat-exchanged air as it rises from the water-saturated packing. Far from simple, there are pipes loading the packing with internally discharged hot water. Nozzles spray the hot water, too. With the fill media exposed to the air, a passive heat load “drafting” system is the next logical machine stage, but there are other, more powerful options available.

From Cooling Basin to Crossflow System Exit Like other heat exchanger architectures, the two different fluid mediums are kept entirely separate, all the better to establish a fully hygienic inner environment. At the tower’s core, the fill media absorbs heat and water from the tubes coming out of an industrially-active building. Spray nozzles distribute the water, with the excess cold water dropping down into a collection basin. Drift compensators absorb some of the evaporative heat load as it rises. For the rest of the heat, it rises on thermals and exits the tower at its apex, where an open chimney sits waiting.

To further facilitate the process, natural draft crossflow architectures can be swapped out for active mechanical stages. Counterflow air currents and drip-down nozzle discharges augment the process and reduce the scale of these mammoth structures. Multi-fan stages and alternative fill media configurations add more flow control options to the equipment, too, but the basic principles underlying the evaporative cooling process remain fundamentally unchanged.

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