Fouling refers to any change in the solid boundary separating two heat transfer fluids, whether by dirt accumulation or other means, which results in a decrease in the rate of heat transfer occurring across that boundary. Fouling may be classified by mechanism into six basic categories:
1. Corrosion fouling. The heat transfer surface reacts chemically with elements of the fluid stream producing a less conductive, corrosion layer on all or part of the surface.
2. Biofouling. Organisms present in the fluid stream are attracted to the warm heat-transfer surface where they attach, grow, and reproduce. The two subgroups are microbiofoulants such as slime and algae and macrobiofoulants such as snails and barnacles.
3. Particulate fouling. Particles held in suspension in the flow stream will deposit out on the heat-transfer surface in areas of sufficiently lower velocity.
4. Chemical reaction fouling (ex.—Coking). Chemical reaction of the fluid takes place on the heat-transfer surface producing an adhering solid product of reaction.
5. Precipitation fouling (ex.—Scaling). A fluid containing some dissolved material becomes supersaturated with respect to this mate rial at the temperatures seen at the heat-transfer surface. This results in a crystallization of the material which "plates out" on the warmer surface.
6. Freezing fouling. Overcooling of a fluid below the fluid's freezing point at the heat-transfer surface causes solidification and coating of the heat-transfer surface.
Control of Fouling Once the combination of mechanisms contributing to a particular fouling problem are recognized, methods to substantially reduce the fouling rate may be implemented. For the case of corrosion fouling, the common solution is to choose a less corrosive material of construction balancing material cost with equipment life. In cases of biofouling, the use of copper alloys and/or chemical treatment of the fluid stream to control organism growth and reproduction are the most common solutions.
In the case of particulate fouling, one of the more common types, insuring a sufficient flow velocity and minimizing areas of lower velocities and stagnant flows to help keep particles in suspension is the most common means of dealing with the problem. For water, the recommended tubeside minimum velocity is about 0.9 to 1.0 m/s. This may not always be possible for moderate to high-viscosity fluids where the resulting pressure drop can be prohibitive.
Special care should be taken in the application of any velocity requirement to the shellside of segmental-baffled bundles due to the many different flow streams and velocities present during operation, the unavoidable existence of high-fouling areas of flow stagnation, and the danger of flow-induced tube vibration. In general, shellside-particulate fouling will be greatest for segmentally baffled bundles in the regions of low velocity and the TEMA-fouling factors (which are based upon the use of this bundle type) should be used. However, since the 1940's, there have been a host of successful, low-fouling exchangers developed, some tubular and some not, which have in common the elimination of the cross-flow plate baffle and provide practically no regions of flow stagnation at the heat-transfer surface. Some examples are the plate and frame exchanger, the spiral plate exchanger, and the twisted tube exchanger, all of which have dispensed with baffles altogether and use the heat-transfer surface itself for bundle support. The general rule for these designs is to provide between 25 and 30 percent excess surface to compensate for potential fouling, although this can vary in special applications.
For the remaining classifications—polymerization, precipitation, and freezing—fouling is the direct result of temperature extremes at the heat-transfer surface and is reduced by reducing the temperature difference between the heat-transfer surface and the bulk-fluid stream. Conventional wisdom says to increase velocity, thus increasing the local heat-transfer coefficient to bring the heat-transfer surface temperature closer to the bulk-fluid temperature. However, due to a practical limit on the amount of heat-transfer coefficient increase available by increasing velocity, this approach, although better than nothing, is often not satisfactory by itself.
A more effective means of reducing the temperature difference is by using, in concert with adequate velocities, some form of extended surface. As discussed by Shilling (Proceedings of the 10th International Heat Transfer Conference, Brighton, U.K., 4, p. 423), this will tend to reduce the temperature extremes between fluid and heat transfer surface and not only reduce the rate of fouling but make the heat exchanger generally less sensitive to the effects of any fouling that does occur. In cases where unfinned tubing in a triangular tube layout would not be acceptable because fouling buildup and eventual mechanical cleaning are inevitable, extended surface should be used only when the exchanger construction allows access for cleaning.
Fouling Transients and Operating Periods Three common behaviors are noted in the development of a fouling film over a period of time. One is the so-called asymptotic fouling in which the speed of fouling resistance increase decreases over time as it approaches some asymptotic value beyond which no further fouling can occur. This is commonly found in temperature-driven fouling. A second is linear fouling in which the increase in fouling resistance follows a straight line over the time of operation. This could be experienced in a case of severe particulate fouling where the accumulation of dirt during the time of operation did not appreciably increase velocities to mitigate the problem. The third, falling rate fouling, is neither linear nor asymptotic but instead lies somewhere between these two extremes.
The rate of fouling decreases with time but does not appear to approach an asymptotic maximum during the time of operation. This is the most common type of fouling in the process industry and is usually the result of a combination of different fouling mechanisms occurring together.
The optimum operating period between cleanings depends upon the rate and type of fouling, the heat exchanger used (i.e. baffle type, use of extended surface, and velocity and pressure drop design constraints), and the ease with which the heat exchanger may be removed from service for cleaning. As noted above, care must be taken in the use of fouling factors for exchanger design, especially if the exchanger configuration has been selected specifically to minimize fouling accumulation. An oversurfaced heat exchanger which will not foul enough to operate properly can be almost as much a problem as an undersized exchanger. This is especially true in steam-heated exchangers where the ratio of design MTD to minimum achievable MTD is less than U_clean divided by U_fouled.
Removal of Fouling Deposits Chemical removal of fouling can be achieved in some cases by weak acid, special solvents, and so on. Other deposits adhere weakly and can be washed off by periodic operation at very high velocities or by flushing with a high-velocity steam or water jet or using a sand-water slurry. These methods may be applied to both the shell side and tube side without pulling the bundle. Many fouling deposits, however, must be removed by positive mechanical action such as rodding, turbining, or scraping the surface. These techniques may be applied inside of tubes without pulling the bundle but can be applied on the shellside only after bundle removal. Even then there is limited access because of the tube pitch and rotated square or large triangular layouts are recommended. In many cases, it has been found that designs developed to minimize fouling often develop a fouling layer which is more easily removed.
Fouling Resistances There are no published methods for predicting fouling resistances a priori. The accumulated experience of exchanger designers and users was assembled more than 40 years ago based primarily upon segmental-baffled exchanger bundles and may be found in the Standards of Tubular Exchanger Manufacturers Association (TEMA). In the absence of other information, the fouling resistances contained therein may be used.
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