A shell and tube heat exchanger (STHE) is a class of heat exchanger designs. It is the most common type of heat exchanger in oil refineries and other large chemical processes, and is suited for higher-pressure applications. As its name implies, this type of heat exchanger consists of a shell (a large pressure vessel) with a bundle of tubes inside it. One fluid runs through the tubes, and another fluid flows over the tubes (through the shell) to transfer heat between the two fluids. The set of tubes is called a tube bundle, and may be composed by several types of tubes: plain, longitudinally finned, etc.
The principal components of an STHE are shell, shell cover, tubes, channel, channel cover, tubesheet, baffles, and nozzles.
Theory and Application
Two fluids, of different starting temperatures, flow through the heat exchanger. One flows through the tubes (the tube side) and the other flows outside the tubes but inside the shell (the shell side). Heat is transferred from one fluid to the other through the tube walls, either from tube side to shell side or vice versa. The fluids can be either liquids or gases on either the shell or the tube side. In order to transfer heat efficiently, a large heat transfer area should be used, leading to the use of many tubes. In this way, waste heat can be put to use. This is an efficient way to conserve energy.
Heat exchangers with only one phase (liquid or gas) on each side can be called one-phase or single-phase heat exchangers. Two-phase heat exchangers can be used to heat a liquid to boil it into a gas (vapor), sometimes called boilers, or cool a vapor to condense it into a liquid (called condensers), with the phase change usually occurring on the shell side. Boilers in steam engine locomotives are typically large, usually cylindrically-shaped shell-and-tube heat exchangers. In large power plants with steam-driven turbines, shell-and-tube surface condensers are used to condense the exhaust steam exiting the turbine into condensate water which is recycled back to be turned into steam in the steam generator.
Shell and tube heat exchanger design
There can be many variations on the shell and tube design. Typically, the ends of each tube are connected to plenums (sometimes called water boxes) through holes in tubesheets. The tubes may be straight or bent in the shape of a U, called U-tubes.
In nuclear power plants called pressurized water reactors, large heat exchangers called steam generators are two-phase, shell-and-tube heat exchangers which typically have U-tubes. They are used to boil water recycled from a surface condenser into steam to drive a turbine to produce power. Most shell-and-tube heat exchangers are either 1, 2, or 4 pass designs on the tube side. This refers to the number of times the fluid in the tubes passes through the fluid in the shell. In a single pass heat exchanger, the fluid goes in one end of each tube and out the other.
Surface condensers in power plants are often 1-pass straight-tube heat exchangers (see Surface condenser for diagram). Two and four pass designs are common because the fluid can enter and exit on the same side. This makes construction much simpler.
There are often baffles directing flow through the shell side so the fluid does not take a short cut through the shell side leaving ineffective low flow volumes.
Counter current heat exchangers are most efficient because they allow the highest log mean temperature difference between the hot and cold streams. Many companies however do not use single pass heat exchangers because they can break easily in addition to being more expensive to build. Often multiple heat exchangers can be used to simulate the counter current flow of a single large exchanger.
Selection of tube material
To be able to transfer heat well, the tube material should have good thermal conductivity. Because heat is transferred from a hot to a cold side through the tubes, there is a temperature difference through the width of the tubes. Because of the tendency of the tube material to thermally expand differently at various temperatures, thermal stresses occur during operation. This is in addition to any stress from high pressures from the fluids themselves. The tube material also should be compatible with both the shell and tube side fluids for long periods under the operating conditions (temperatures, pressures, pH, etc.) to minimize deterioration such as corrosion. All of these requirements call for careful selection of strong, thermally-conductive, corrosion-resistant, high quality tube materials, typically metals, including copper alloy, stainless steel, carbon steel, non-ferrous copper alloy, Inconel, nickel, Hastelloy and titanium. Poor choice of tube material could result in a leak through a tube between the shell and tube sides causing fluid cross-contamination and possibly loss of pressure.