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A Shell and tube heat exchanger is a class of heat exchanger. It is the most common type of heat exchanger in oil refineries and other large chemical processes. As its name implies, this type of heat exchanger consists of a shell (a large vessel) with a bundle of tubes inside it.

Theory and applicationEdit

Two fluids, of different starting temperatures, flow through the heat exchanger. One flows through the tubes (the tube side) and the other flows outside the tubes but inside the shell (the shell side). Heat is transferred from one fluid to the other through the tube walls, either from tube side to shell side or vice versa. The fluids can be either liquids or gases on either the shell or the tube side. In order to transfer heat efficiently, a large heat transfer area should be used, so there are many tubes. In this way, waste heat can be put to use. This is a great way to conserve energy.

Heat exchangers with only one phase (liquid or gas) on each side can be called one-phase or single-phase heat exchangers. Two-phase heat exchangers can be used to heat a liquid to boil it into a gas (vapor), sometimes called boilers, or cool a vapor to condense it into a liquid (called condensers), with the phase change usually occurring on the shell side. Boilers in steam engine locomotives are typically large, usually cylindrically-shaped shell-and-tube heat exchangers. In large power plants with steam-driven turbines, shell-and-tube (see Condenser (steam turbine) ) condensers are used to condense the exhaust steam exiting the turbine into condensate water which can be recycled back to be turned into steam, possibly into a shell-and-tube type boiler.

Shell and tube heat exchanger designEdit

There can be many variations on the shell and tube design. Typically, the ends of each tube are connected to plenums (sometimes called water boxes) through holes in tubesheets. The tubes may be straight or bent in the shape of a U, called U-tubes.

U-tube heat exchanger

In nuclear power plants with pressurized water reactors, large heat exchangers called steam generators are two-phase, shell-and-tube heat exchangers which typically have U-tubes. They are used to boil water recycled from a steam turbine condenser into steam to drive the turbine to produce power. Most shell-and-tube heat exchangers are either 1, 2, or 4 pass designs on the tube side. This refers to the number of times the fluid in the tubes passes through the fluid in the shell. In a single pass heat exchanger, the fluid goes in one end of each tube and out the other.

Straight-tube heat exchanger 1-pass

Steam turbine condensers in power plants are often 1-pass straight-tube heat exchangers. Two and four pass designs are common because the fluid can enter and exit on the same side. This makes construction much simpler.

Straight-tube heat exchanger 2-pass

There are often baffles directing flow through the shell side so the fluid does not take a short cut through the shell side leaving ineffective low flow volumes.

Counter current heat exchangers are most efficient because they allow the highest log mean temperature difference between the hot and cold streams. Many companies however do not use them because they can break easily in addition to being more expensive to build. Often multiple heat exchangers can be used to simulate the counter current flow of a single large exchanger.

Kettle Reboiler

Cross-sectional diagram of a Kettle Reboiler, often used to heat bottoms (residuum) material with steam for a distillation tower

Selection of tube materialEdit

To be able to transfer heat well, the tube material should have good thermal conductivity. Because heat is transferred from a hot to a cold side through the tubes, there is a temperature difference through the width of the tubes. Because of the tendency of the tube material to thermally expand differently at various temperatures, thermal stresses occur during operation. This is in addition to any stress from high pressures from the fluids themselves. The tube material also should be compatible with both the shell and tube side fluids for long periods under the operating conditions (temperatures, pressures, pH, etc.) to minimize deterioration such as corrosion. All of these requirements call for careful selection of strong, thermally-conductive, corrosion-resistant, high quality tube materials, typically metals. Poor choice of tube material could result in a leak through a tube between the shell and tube sides causing fluid cross-contamination and possibly loss of pressure.

See alsoEdit

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