The demand for heat exchangers, like almost every other sector, suffered a blow during the COVID-19 pandemic. But following the pandemic, the market is expected to have a growth rate, as various industries move towards achieving greater energy efficiency and renewable targets.
Sunand Mohan, Director of Energy Division, Alfa Laval, is a flagbearer of optimism. “According to the Fortune Business Insight, the global heat exchangers market is projected to reach USD 28.30 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 7.3% during the 2021-2028 period,” he says. “This growth is predominantly driven by expanding industrial spaces, such as petroleum refineries, petrochemical production units, District Cooling, power generation plants and food manufacturing industries. Meanwhile, there is an increasing focus on energy efficiency, with innovations such as waste heat-capture helping this trend.”
As for GCC region countries, they are driving the demand for heat exchangers with District Cooling-related requirements, and this trend is expected to continue contributing to demand growth. Echoing this, Jibin Mohanan, Sales Manager, HEX MEA, Gulf Sondex FZCO, says, “Demand for thermal heat transfer is increasing due to the surge in energy efficiency needs and also the higher demand for cooling, heating and energy consumption in the buildings, wastewater treatment and food supply caused by the rising urban population.”
Mohanan also notes that the most demand has come from Saudi Arabia and Egypt for both new and reinitiated projects. He believes the heat exchangers market is also seeing a positive impact of increasing oil prices and the increased use of District Energy, among other factors.
For companies in the HVCAR industry, some goals and initiatives have evolved significantly, post-pandemic. For example, companies have always sought to streamline costs and boost productivity while providing quality products; more recently, they’ve also begun to tie those goals with more socially and environmentally conscious ones. In many instances, the realm of electrical cooling has proven an important area to focus on when it comes to lowering a company’s environmental footprint. In the GCC region, heat exchangers are being viewed with increasing urgency as a means to reducing carbon emission and as a means
to saving energy and improving efficiency, requiring providers to innovate on technologies to enhance efficiency, lower energy consumption and bring down costs.
MATERIALS AND INNOVATIONS
Innovations relating to materials has always been at the centre of enhancing cooling technologies. Recent studies have been exploring nanofluids as an option to improve the efficiency and profitability of thermal systems in industrial, commercial and residential applications. Mohan says, “When considering how best to meet the needs of synthetic and low-GWP refrigerants, there are three main types of plate heat exchanger technologies to focus on – copper-brazed plate heat exchangers, semi-welded plate heat exchangers and fusion-bonded plate heat exchangers.” Meanwhile, plate design enhancement has been a focus for Danfoss. The company claims its new D-plate series has made significant upgrades to the traditional Fishbone plates to maximise performance by up to 10%.
Shell & tube heat exchanger is quite preferred across many application sectors. In the region, plate heat exchangers are highly deployed for cooling towers, boilers and the food and beverages industry.
The regional industry players feel that compared to alternative thermal technologies, plate heat exchangers provide greater heat transfer within a compact design and smaller footprint. Mohanan says: “Plate HEX costs less in comparison to shell and tube in CAPEX and OPEX. Additionally, they are easy to install, reduce carbon footprint and are easier to expand upon demand.” Citing an example, Mohanan points to how a customer, who used shell & tube technology, opted for two plate heat exchangers. “This resulted in approximately 60% cost reduction and 95% installation cost reduction,” he says. “Also, the plate heat exchangers they implemented weigh less, and the carbon footprint is drastically reduced.”
Weighing in, Rennie Sequeira, General Manager, DC Serve Middle East, points to how heat exchangers in HVAC and District Cooling applications are particularly used as a pressure brake system to protect the system components, pipes and fittings from high system pressure. The reduce the risk of valves and ancillaries failing at high system pressure and also protect the cooling system from wear and tear, thus increasing the life of system. He adds that modern gasketed plate and frame heat exchanger designs have been able to accommodate system design pressure ratings of up to 32 bar and are tested at 41 bar.
CUSTOMISING FOR BETTER PERFORMANCE
When it comes to heat transfer as a function, the consensus is that getting the most energy-efficient and reliable performance comes down to having the ideal technology for specific conditions. Different applications demand different designs, depending on conditions, temperatures and pressure, and the plate heat exchanger type. Sequeira says: “One has to take due consideration in selecting the dimensions (models) of heat exchangers by providing the recommended space for maintenance all around the heat exchanger, taking advantage of customisable nature of heat exchanger, in terms of size, velocity across nozzles, a combination of plate patterns (chevron pattern) to achieve the optimum thermal efficiency, limitation of pressure drops across the heat exchangers, flow pattern and the number of passes.”
Mohan believes that heat exchangers increase energy efficiency by 20-30% when used optimally. “We have plate heat exchangers that save 54 TWh of energy refineries compared to what they would consume with less efficient, conventional heat exchangers,” he says. “As a result, the corresponding reduction in CO2 emissions is over 13 million tonnes. Imagine if every refinery switched to more efficient, compact welded plate heat exchangers for all processes? It could reduce energy consumption by 23% and global carbon emissions by 245 million tonnes.”
While HVAC is more standardised and less complicated, heat exchangers for industrial applications need a tailored approach. Mohanan says that with an increase in industrial application, there is more and more need for custom-designed heat exchanger plates, because they have different varieties of fluids, design conditions, and product certification and quality needs.
ENERGY EFFICIENCY AS DRIVING DEMAND
Mohan says that companies are increasingly realising that energy efficiency is the first step towards net-zero, and this is driving demand and innovation. There’s an increasing focus on clean energy with projects around green hydrogen, carbon capture, utilisation and storage. Zero-liquid discharge is an excellent opportunity in the GCC region, where water is a scarce resource, in addition to the huge potential offered by the circular economy space. The growing demand for sustainable energy development to mitigate GHG emissions is a valid one. “Our customers expect us to provide solutions that support them achieve no waste and carbon neutrality,” Mohanan says.
He believes that there is a need to educate the market on heat exchangers used in chilled water HVAC applications, which could create enormous demand. Revisiting the tussle between shell & tube and plate systems, he says: “We must educate our customers about the benefits of replacing old shell & tube technology with new plate heat exchangers. To compare, plate heat exchangers have a lower total cost and low installation and maintenance costs. Plus, they can enhance the efficiency of the process.”
MAINTENANCE AS A CRITICAL ASPECT
Whilst customisation is important, as is the choice of the specific technology, looking after the heat exchanger is a critical aspect in saving costs. Some of the main factors that cause heat exchanger failure in HVAC systems are gasket failures or buckling of plate packs, when exposed to pressure surges, or damage resulting from poor assembly practice or a misaligned plate. Heat
exchanger failures could also be due to a decrease in performance, when plate channels are blocked or when airlock has developed in pipework, or when the unit is running in co-current flow, instead of counter-current. Furthermore, improper design can impact efficiency for the whole system and heat exchangers.
“Timely professional cleaning will reduce the downtime period and spare part requirements,” Mohanan says. “Even when you select the right heat exchanger, it has to be optimised and commissioned correctly, in addition to regular maintenance and cleaning, to achieve the maximum output. Poorly designed and maintained heat exchangers might even cause more consumption.”
Sequeira adds, “To ensure longevity of heat exchangers, an automatic backwash system (ABS) can be installed for each plate and frame heat exchanger to thoroughly eject macro- and micro-foulants that become impinged in the plate packs.”
Such is the importance of maintenance that the heat exchangers service and maintenance market is seeing many emerging solutions that allow preventive maintenance to reduce unplanned stops, increase equipment lifetime and reduce workplace accidents. For example, Mohan says, companies are now offering remote monitoring, preventative maintenance, reconditioning, remote support and retrofit, amongst other services. These technologies also enable the best use of resources and reduce spare parts stock.
GROWING F&B APPLICATIONS IN THE REGION
While the discussion focuses on HVAC, what about R? Indeed, what are the milestones touched by the cold chain sector? After all, heat exchangers regulate fluid temperatures in processing systems to meet pasteurisation, filling operations and food safety requirements. Indeed, in the food and beverage industry, heat exchangers reduce or eliminate microbial presence to make products safe for consumption and prevent spoilage.
Heat exchangers demand from the F&B and food storage industries has been rising in the region, especially in the light of organisations transitioning to ultra-low-GWP refrigerants, such as R1234ze and R515B in large, air-cooled chillers. “The low density of these refrigerants makes system performance highly sensitive to pressure drops,” Mohanan says. “With optimised microchannel geometry, the new optimised microchannel heat exchangers provide the ideal balance between maximum heat rejection and internal refrigerant pressure drop.”
Plate design enhancements, like the FrontLine range, cater to the dairy, beverage and processed food applications to provide an optimal combination of temperature and holding time, ensuring precise pasteurisation, UHT treatment and regeneration, Mohan says.
Sequeira, wading into the discussion, says: “Interestingly, there is also a growing demand for plate and frame heat exchangers in the GCC region for potable water cooling. Albeit the sales revenue of plate and frame heat exchangers for potable water cooling is low, the volumes are higher, as regulations provide the impetus for pre-fabricated domestic water-cooling skids with plate heat exchangers.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
Broadly speaking, though, where are heat exchangers as a market sector? Indeed, what is the macro-scenario? Sequeira says: “Market potential of plate and frame heat exchangers for District Energy is primarily regulated by the development of master- planned communities and growth in construction sector governed by stringent environmental regulations to reduce carbon footprint. Meanwhile, District Cooling plants provide a growth stimulus for heat exchangers in the GCC region countries