Whenever anyone hears the term, “cooling tower,” more than likely the first image that springs to mind is that of a nuclear power plant, with the tall, cylindrical towers that widen at the base.  Cooling towers are used in far more processes than just nuclear energy, though.  Industrial facilities all over the world utilize various types of cooling towers as part of their cooling systems.  These towers and the systems they’re attached to work to transfer heat from important machinery and disperse it elsewhere, thus ensuring that nothing overheats and therefore malfunctions – a possibly dangerous scenario.

The Various Options:

Cooling towers come in a variety of designs and implement a variety of cooling processes.  This is due to the fact that, depending on the climate of an area, certain types of cooling towers function better than others.  Temperature, humidity, and even precipitation levels are all factors to take into consideration when opting to install a cooling tower.

Two common types of cooling towers are crossflow cooling towers and counterflow cooling towers.  They both operate according to the same general principle; it’s just the way in which they implement this principle that’s different.  Both work with a system in which hot water is introduced to the cooling tower in order to interact with air, and thus transfer heat and cool the water.  With a crossflow tower, water works its way down a filler – typically some type of PVC material – where air is blown perpendicular to the flow of water.  In a counterflow tower, water and air meet each other head on, with water typically moving downward and the air moving upward.  With counterflow systems, there typically isn’t any type of filler.  Instead, water drops through open air or even sometimes a system of plates, and then open air.

A forced draft tower typically operates in a counterflow process.  In this system, air enters the tower at the base where it passes through a blower and is forced upwards.  Water is sprayed from the top and, in this system, often passes through a filler, such as a series of metal plates.  As the air passes over the water and through the plates, it carries the heat with it in the form of evaporates and is discharged into the atmosphere at the top of the tower.

Natural draft spray towers use a cross flow method where air is drawn in and passes a stream of water sprayed from above.  As with a forced draft tower, the cooled water falls to the base of the tower where it settles in a basin before being pumped back to whatever equipment or machinery it’s being used to cool.  These towers are often preferred to forced draft towers because they’re quieter, relying on natural air flow rather than noisy fans.

Sometimes more control is desired over the water that’s circulating through a cooling system.  In a closed circuit system, the water used to cool machinery doesn’t leave the system and therefore is not introduced to external elements.  This is beneficial because it reduces the likelihood of external elements introducing anything that may make the water more acidic – and therefore corrosive – and it helps cut down on fouling.

Such closed systems utilize a fluid cooler tower.  In this tower, water used for cooling is brought in by pipes which circulate down through the tower, kind of like a filler.  Separate water stored in the tower is sprayed down through the tower and over the piping, which acts as a heat exchanger, while air is forced up from the base through a blower.  The spray water collects the heat from the pipes, and then descends through the blown air, which in turn takes the heat and discharges it through the top of the tower.

Is the Investment Worth It?

Some cooling towers aren’t that expensive to purchase and install.  In fact, a variety of smaller cooling towers are often used in a variety of commercial and industrial settings.  Larger cooling towers, all the way up the tall stacks commonly seen at nuclear and hydroelectric power plants, are obviously larger investments, but they’re worth it.  Cooling towers are typically far more efficient than other means of cooling, requiring less energy and therefore less money to operate.

Many cooling towers, such as those that utilize natural draft systems, require very little maintenance because they don’t have any moving parts and aren’t very complex systems.  For sustainability purposes, cooling towers are great because they cut down or even eliminate the need to use fossil fuels for the same process.  Many rave about natural gas, and while it may burn “cleaner” than other fossil fuels, it’s still a finite resource and can be very expensive.  For efficiency, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness, cooling towers are still the way to go.