Installation of thermal solar energy

What Is a Heat Exchanger? Operation and Types

What is a heat exchanger? Operation and types

A heat exchanger is a technical device in which heat exchange takes place between two media that have different temperatures.

How Does a Heat Exchanger Work?

The way a heat exchanger works depends on the type of exchanger. However, the principle of operation is the same.

The exchanger has two inlets and two outlets through which two fluids enter and leave at different temperatures. Both fluids come into contact with a surface with a high heat transfer, each one on the one hand, without mixing.

The hotter fluid gives up heat to the surface, raising the temperature and its internal energy. At the same time, the surface gives up this thermal energy to the cold fluid in the form of heat.

What Is the Law of Heat Exchange?

The law of heat exchange is the set of the laws of thermodynamics that regulate the transfer of heat between two elements:

  • If we have two elements at a different temperature that are in contact with another element. Energy will pass from one element to another until all three have the same temperature (first law of thermodynamics).

  • Heat can only flow from a hot element to a colder one (second law of thermodynamics).

  • The rate of heat transfer is proportional to the difference in temperature.

Types of Heat Exchangers

Depending on the design of the exchangers, the main types are:

1. Double Tube Heat Exchanger (or "concentric Tubes")

Fluids flow in two coaxial tubes, one inside and one outside. In this exchanger, the fluid with a higher temperature flows through the inner conduit, giving up heat to the fluid with a lower temperature that flows around it. They are also known as jacketed exchangers.

2. Shell and Tube Heat Exchanger

In the shell and tube exchanger, one of the fluids passes through the interior and the other through the exterior of the tubes, in a specially designed chamber (shell or shell).

3. Helical Heat Exchanger

It consists of a helical or serpentine shaped tube into which the process fluid flows, which is cooled through a film of water that drips from above.

4. Plate Heat Exchangers

Plate heat exchangers consist of a set of plates in which the fluids flow in alternating channels, against the current.

A particular case is the gasketed plate heat exchanger. In this type of exchanger, the plates have the channels sealed with elastomeric gaskets and the flow flows into alternative channels. The plate pack mounts between a frame and a bolt-on pressure plate.

5. Spiral Exchanger

the two fluids pass to the opposite sides of a sheet, generally smooth, in single chambers of great length, wound in a spiral.

6. Exchanger for Graphite or Other Material

The currents circulate in cylindrical holes, generally arranged orthogonally on the two sides; extended surface exchangers.

Other Types of Heat Exchangers

There are other classifications of exchangers:

According to the Flow Direction

  • Parallel flow: hot and cold fluids flow in the same direction.

  • Counter flow: fluids enter at different ends and circulate in the same direction but in opposite directions. In this case, heat recovery is much more efficient than in parallel flow.

  • Cross flow: fluids flow through a bundle of tubes perpendicular to each other.

  • Single-pass: in this type of exchanger, the fluid only exchanges heat once. Sometimes the heat energy transfer is not enough and two or more exchangers are combined in series.

  • Multiple Steps: Fluids exchange heat more times.

  • Regenerative and non-regenerative: whether the same fluid is used or not.

According to the Type of Contact

Depending on how the fluids interact, we distinguish the following heat exchangers:

  • Direct contact: the interfaces of the heat-exchanging fluids are in direct contact with each other.

  • Indirect contact: the fluid interfaces are separated by a surface that transmits heat.

Examples of Use of Heat Exchangers

Heat exchangers are used in technological processes in the oil refining, petrochemical, chemical, nuclear power, refrigeration, gas and other industries.

In solar energy installations the heat exchanger is used to transfer the heat captured through solar radiation to another working fluid. Solar thermal energy can be used both to supply thermal energy in a heating system and in solar thermal power plants.

Other examples of common heat exchangers are the car radiator and the heater for domestic heating.


Published: February 13, 2019
Last review: September 9, 2021