GLRPPR: Sector Resources: Documents: A Fundamentally New Approach to Air-cooled Heat Exchangers
Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable
Promoting Pollution Prevention Through Information Exchange
About Us
E-Mail This Page
Funding Opps
Region 5 Project Summaries
Sector Resources
Topic Hubs™
Conferences & Training
Ask a Librarian
Mailing List

GLRPPR Sector Resource: A Fundamentally New Approach to Air-cooled Heat Exchangers

A Fundamentally New Approach to Air-cooled Heat Exchangers

We describe breakthrough results obtained in a feasibility study of a fundamentally new architecture for air-cooled heat exchangers. A longstanding but largely unrealized opportunity in energy efficiency concerns the performance of air-cooled heat exchangers used in air conditioners, heat pumps, and refrigeration equipment. In the case of residential air conditioners, for example, the typical performance of the air cooled heat exchangers used for condensers and evaporators is at best marginal from the standpoint the of achieving maximum the possible coefficient of performance (COP). If by some means it were possible to reduce the thermal resistance of these heat exchangers to a negligible level, a typical energy savings of order 30% could be immediately realized. It has long been known that a several-fold increase in heat exchanger size, in conjunction with the use of much higher volumetric flow rates, provides a straight-forward path to this goal but is not practical from the standpoint of real world applications. The tension in the market place between the need for energy efficiency and logistical considerations such as equipment size, cost and operating noise has resulted in a compromise that is far from ideal. This is the reason that a typical residential air conditioner exhibits significant sensitivity to reductions in fan speed and/or fouling of the heat exchanger surface. The prevailing wisdom is that little can be done to improve this situation; the "fan-plus-finned-heat-sink" heat exchanger architecture used throughout the energy sector represents an extremely mature technology for which there is little opportunity for further optimization. But the fact remains that conventional fan-plus-finned-heat-sink technology simply doesn't work that well. Their primary physical limitation to performance (i.e. low thermal resistance) is the boundary layer of motionless air that adheres to and envelops all surfaces of the heat exchanger. Within this boundary layer region, diffusive transport is the dominant mechanism for heat transfer. The resulting thermal bottleneck largely determines the thermal resistance of the heat exchanger. No one has yet devised a practical solution to the boundary layer problem. Another longstanding problem is inevitable fouling of the heat exchanger surface over time by particulate matter and other airborne contaminants. This problem is especially important in residential air conditioner systems where often little or no preventative maintenance is practiced. The heat sink fouling problem also remains unsolved. The third major problem (alluded to earlier) concerns inadequate airflow to heat exchanger resulting from restrictions on fan noise. The air-cooled heat exchanger described here solves all of the above three problems simultaneously. The "Air Bearing Heat Exchanger" provides a several-fold reduction in boundary layer thickness, intrinsic immunity to heat sink fouling, and drastic reductions in noise. It is also very practical from the standpoint of cost, complexity, ruggedness, etc. Successful development of this technology is also expected to have far reaching impact in the IT sector from the standpointpoint of solving the "Thermal Brick Wall" problem (which currently limits CPU clocks speeds to ~ 3 GHz), and increasing concern about the the electrical power consumption of our nation's information technology infrastructure.


Sandia National Laboratory

Resource Type:

Date of Publication:

Associated Sectors:


Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR)
One East Hazelwood Drive Champaign, IL 61820
(217) 333-8940

University of Illinios Privacy Notice