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John Nesta
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Revision Log

Air Cooled Exchanger Design Guidelines

Revision 6, July 2012

All pages revised.

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Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page i
Table of Contents July 2012
Rev 6

1.0 Introduction
1.1 Purpose
1.2 Scope
1.3 Application
1.4 How to use the Guidelines
1.5 Codes and Standards
2.0 Equipment Type (Forced versus Induced)
2.1 Selection
2.2 Induced Draft Limits
3.0 Design Optimization
3.1 Total Evaluated Cost
3.2 Design Methodology
4.0 General Design Guidelines
4.1 Bay Layout
4.2 Bundle Layout
4.3 Nozzles
4.4 Fouling
4.5 Pressure Drop
4.6 Liquid / Vapor Separation
4.7 Screens
5.0 Air Side Design
5.1 Fin Design
5.2 Fan Coverage
5.3 Power Requirements
5.4 Noise
5.5 Approach Velocity
5.6 Hot Air Recirculation
6.0 Tube Side Design
6.1 Tube Size
6.2 Velocity
7.0 Process Control and Winterization
7.1 General
7.2 Process Temperature
7.3 Tube Skin Temperature
7.4 Air Temperature Control
8.0 Special Applications
8.1 Total Steam Condenser
8.2 Partial Steam Condenser
8.3 Viscous Fluid Cooler
8.4 Condensers with water wash
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page ii
Table of Contents July 2012
Rev 6

A Literature – Recommended Reading
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 1-2
Introduction July 2012
Rev 6

1.1 Purpose
This practice establishes guidelines for thermal design and other parameters for the specification
of air-cooled heat exchangers used in the process industries.
1.2 Scope
The equipment types covered are flat bundle air coolers of either the forced or induced draft type.
A-frame vacuum steam condensers are beyond the scope of this practice.
This practice establishes the following:
• Thermal design guidelines
• Economic design and evaluation
• Other design parameters
1.3 Application
This practice is intended for use in designing air-cooled heat exchangers used in the process
1.4 How to Use the Guidelines
Many design parameters are merely based on user preference. It may be useful to prepare a
project checklist that can be used to identify these preferences at the start of a project. These
guidelines provide good engineering practice to determine those parameters that the client does
not specify. The guidelines and design preferences specified herein are to be used in the absence
of any client requirements.
The body of the text will provide various guidelines noted in normal text. Text shown in italics
provides some additional explanatory material, non-mandatory guidelines, or other background
A full reading of the text, including the italicized text, is a good training exercise for new
engineers. A streamlined text without italics can be used as:
a) A design specification for projects. User preferences should be incorporated.
b) A design specification to maintain quality and design consistency for work sharing between
offices or for outsourcing designs.
1.5 Codes and Standards
It is assumed that the purchase specification will include, or be similar to, the following industry
• American Petroleum Institute (API) Specification 661 / International Standards Organization
(ISO) 13706
• The rating methods are assumed to be Heat Transfer Research Inc. (HTRI) and the XACE
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Introduction July 2012
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Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 2-1
Introduction July 2012
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2.1 Selection
The standard type of air cooler shall be forced draft. Induced draft may be considered when the
detrimental effect of hot air recirculation or other factors make it an optimum choice. If possible,
all adjacent bays on the same piperack shall be the same type.
The type of air cooler is usually specified by the client. Each type has advantages over the other. Forced
draft air coolers will be the optimum choice, on balance, for most users and climates.
The advantages of each type are noted below:
Forced Draft
• Capital cost is less by 1-5%.
• Power consumption is less, in the range of 5-15%.
• Easier to maintain fans.
• Easier to remove bundles, if necessary.
• Required for warm air recirculation.
• Not limited by discharge air temperature as the fan and motor are outside the exhaust air stream.
Induced Draft
• The discharge air velocity is much higher and, therefore, hot air recirculation to the inlet air is
limited. Induced draft should be considered for low MTD applications where a small increase in
ambient air temperature (due to hot air recirculation) has a large effect on the resultant duty.
• The plenum chamber provides protection against sudden surges in performance caused by rain or
• The plenum reduces heat gain from solar radiation. This can be in the range of 5% of the heat duty
in a hot climate. Induced draft coolers are commonly used in the Middle East.
• The plenum chamber acts as a chimney, which provides a higher heat rejection in the case of fan
• Possibly better air side flow distribution.
• Less susceptible to picking up sand or other contaminants.
• Easier to mount on piperacks.
• Design of supporting substructure is less complicated.
2.2 Induced Draft Limits
The temperature limits below are approximate. Consult the vendor for exact values. When the airflow is
controlled, consider low airflow cases to determine maximum outlet temperature.
Item Maximum Temperature
Aluminum fan with standard bushing 230º F (110º C)
Aluminum fan with high temp bushing 300º F (149º C)
Fiberglass fan 230º F (100º C)
Autovariable pitch hub 230º F (100º C)
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Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 3-1
Design Optimization July 2012
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3.1 Total Evaluated Costs
3.1.1 The total evaluated air cooler cost shall be the sum of the following costs:
1. Equipment cost
2. Ancillary equipment cost (such as motor starters and cable)
3. Shipping cost
4. Erection cost
5. Structural and foundation cost (plot)
6. Operating cost
Erection cost is a function of the extent of shop assembly and the number of bays. Given the same amount
of shop assembly, the erection cost is then directly proportional to the number of bays. The cost can be
obtained from the Estimating Department or Construction Manager. A rough estimate is noted below:
Degree of Shop Assembly Ext. Air Recirculation Hours for Field Assembly per Bay
Shoe box No 50
Shop pre-assembly per 3.1.4.b No 250 – 400
Knocked down No 350 – 600
Shoe box Yes 50
Shop pre-assembly per 3.1.4.b Yes 400 – 600
Knocked down Yes 500 – 800
The range of erection hours is dependent on extent of lint screens, heating coil, louvers, and walkways.
The cost for motor starters and cable is proportional to the number of motors and motor size. The cost
can be obtained from the Electrical Engineer. This cost is small compared to the overall evaluated cost
and usually omitted.
The cost of plot is not so easily obtained and frequently ignored. If coolers are piperack mounted, there
will be a certain length of piperack available at no extra cost to the project. However, if the air coolers
require additional piperack length, structure, or plot at grade; there will be an incremental cost
associated with the air cooler plot requirements. This should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with
the Structural Engineer.
Air cooler fan drives are electric motors (the usual case) or steam turbines (rarely). To calculate the
operating cost you need the cost of electricity or steam, the evaluation period and the time value of
money. A typical evaluation period for users in the process industries is 2 to 4 years on a straight-line
basis. Other users, such as a regulated utility, may use a longer evaluation period, from 15 to 30 years,
but with a present worth analysis.
3.1.2 In general, a design with the lowest equipment cost will satisfy as many of the following points as
• Lowest bare tube surface area
• Fewest number of bays
• Most compact plot (most tube rows)
• Most compact header (longest tube length)
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• Fewest number of fans

3.1.3 Use the average yearly operating case to evaluate operating cost, not the design case. Consider
the type of process control, if any. The average power usage is then:
1 1
PAVG = PD ( F )
( E M ) ( PF )
Where: PAVG = Average power usage at motor input throughout the year

PD = Power at the motor output shaft at maximum design air temperature

(the power calculated by XACE)
F = Factor to account for average power
EM = Motor efficiency
PF = Motor power factor
Consider the control scheme (VFD motors, AV pitch fans, shutting motors off, etc.) and develop a cost
factor (F) for the average operating case throughout the year. You do not have to be too scientific about
this. Just develop some factors that directionally give credit for the control scheme and average annual
climate. Calculate the operating requirements for a few cases at the mean average ambient temperature
throughout the year and develop an appropriate factor to multiply times the design power. Here are
some values that were calculated assuming:
a) Coolers in cold climate without recirculation have louvers, and they are partially closed at 50%
motor speed.
b) The plenum temperature is 50 ºF for coolers with recirculation
Climate 100% VFD 50% VFD Fans On / Off
Hot 1 1 1
Temperate 0.4 0.7 0.9
Cold with warm air recirculation 0.2 0.6 N/A
Cold without warm air recirculation 0.2 0.6 0.8
Surprisingly, there was little difference between coolers with or without recirculation. The values are
rounded to the nearest 0.1 %. The reason for this is that below 30-50 ºF ambient temperature, louvers
are partially closed to stabilize control.
For total power input to the motor, you need to consider the appropriate motor efficiency and power
factor. Motor efficiency and power factor are a function of motor size and loading. If these values are
not known, use 83% for power factor and 92% for efficiency.
3.1.4 As a general rule of thumb, the extent of shop assembly that optimizes erection and shipping cost
is as follows:
a) Provide air coolers knocked down for field erection where ocean shipment is required.
b) Provide shop assembly of the bundle, plenum, fan ring, fan and motor support when only
truck freight is required. Additional assembly may be provided if feasible.
It is much more cost and time effective to have air coolers preassembled in the vendor’s shop compared
to the field. However, the shop assembled piece adds shipping volume that increases ocean freight cost.
In some cases, erection cost and schedule may control to the extent that shop assembly is preferred, even
with ocean shipment. Full assembly including support steel is more difficult but feasible if there is an
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overriding incentive to minimize field labor. This has been the recent case in Alberta where coolers have
been supplied either fully erected, or with a “shoe box” design that is has only two modules to be fitted
The extent of shop assembly dictates the maximum bay size, and thus has a bearing on the thermal design.
3.2 Design Methodology
The heat transfer designer shall provide a design that satisfies the process requirements of the data sheet
in the most economical geometry that provides the lowest total evaluated cost.
The following discussion is based on finned tubes with 5/8 inch nominal fin height and 10 fins per inch.
Tube pitch is standard or wider than standard, typically an extra 1/8 inch. Compact designs with 11
fins/inch and/or pitch less than standard are not recommended as these arrangements tend to foul more
easily and are difficult to clean.
Tube outside diameter Standard tube pitch with 5/8 inch fin height
1” 2.5”
1.25” 2.75”
1.5” 3”
There will be many different solutions ranging from 4 to 8 rows, each with a range of different face
velocities. The number of rows has compensating effect on the total evaluated cost. On a unit area basis,
equipment cost decreases as the number of rows increase. However, it consumes much more power to
move the same amount of air across more rows with smaller face area. Thus, total mass air flow and
MTD decrease (and surface increases) as you add rows. Equipment cost is indeterminate until you work
out the designs. It depends on how much surface is added. For example, an 8 row design with more
surface area can be less expensive than a 4 row design with less surface area, due to the higher surface
area density with 8 rows. Designs with few rows tend to have the highest power cost compared to designs
with many rows.
The only way to be sure of the optimum design is to develop several and calculate the total evaluated
It is convenient to have a general idea of the optimum design before developing the detailed design in
XACE. Another option is to use the following tables to hone in on the number of rows and face
velocity. Then, complete the design in XACE. The tables were derived empirically from several cases.
An example follows at the end of this section.
Use the following steps to for an optimized air cooler design.
1) Calculate power cost.
2) Estimate relative equipment cost per Table 1.
3) Estimate power cost as a percent of equipment cost per Table 2.
4) Characterize the relative value of power cost per Table 3.
5) Estimate overall heat transfer coefficient (U) based on previous designs for similar service.
6) Pick the number or rows using Table 4. Note the comments following the table regarding MTD.
7) Develop a design within the face velocity range per Table 5.
8) Do a few designs that span the first guess. Calculate the total evaluated cost for each design to
confirm the design is optimized.
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Table 1. Relative Equipment Cost

Cost, 2010 US$ Basis
Low (Base Cost) All carbon steel, SA-214 welded tubes, plug header, embedded fins, 150 psig
design pressure, substructure provided including ladders and platforms.
Medium Base cost times 1.8
High Base cost times 2.3

Table 2. Optimized Power Cost Power as a Percent of Equipment Cost

Power Cost, US$/HP Power Cost as a Percent of
Relative Equipment cost
Equipment Cost
Low 550 15-25
Low 1500 25-35
Low 3000 35-50
Medium 550 8-15
Medium 1500 15-25
Medium 3000 25-40
High 550 6-12
High 1500 12-20
High 3000 20-35

Table 3. Economic Value of Power

Relative Value of
Power Cost as a Percent of Equipment Cost
Low <15
Medium 25-35
High >35

Table 4. Optimum Number of Rows

Economical Value of Power
U (US Units)
Low Medium High
30-60 8-7 8-7 8-7
60-80 7-6 8-6 8-7
80-100 6-5 7-6 8-7
100-120 5-4 6-5 7-6
>120 4 5-4 6-4
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The air side heat transfer accounts for 30-85% of the total resistance. When the tube side coefficient is
very high (e.g. condensing steam), the air side coefficient controls the design and it is desirable to use
fewer rows with high face velocity. When the tube side coefficient is very low, air flow is less important
and it pays to pile up the surface with many rows. This general guideline does not consider the MTD.
When the MTD varies sharply with a small change in air flow, it pays to limit the number of rows and use
a lot of air. So, even though you may have a U value that requires, say 6 rows, the optimum design may
be 4 or 5 rows if the MTD is sensitive to air flow. Unfortunately, this is not easily determined beforehand
without working out some designs. You can check this with XACE or a size estimate program. Calculate
surface for 4 and 8 rows at the mean face velocity of Table 5. If the surface area varies by more than
1.6, try one less tube row than Table 4 suggests.
The optimum design for liquids in transition flow may be determined by the geometry that provides the
highest tube side coefficient. Laminar flow should be avoided and this may be more easily accomplished
with fewer rows and less surface area. Thus, even though the tube side coefficient dominates, you may be
driven to a design with few rows.
And finally, certain service conditions may determine the row arrangement to the exclusion of economics.
For example, it is desirable to have one row per pass for a water-washed condenser with two phases at
the inlet. This may be more easily achieved with 4-5 rows due to pressure drop, even though economics
could dictate more rows.
Table 5. Optimum Face Velocity, SFM

Mean Face Economic Value of Power

Number of Rows
Velocity High Medium Low
4 575 500-550 550-600 600-650
5 535 460-510 510-560 560-610
6 500 425-475 475-525 525-575
7 475 400-450 450-500 500-550
8 450 375-425 425-475 475-525

Use the lower end of the face velocity range for tube diameters greater than 1 inch with the standard tube
pitch. Use the high end of the face velocity range for a wide tube pitch where it is desirable to use more
air. Wide pitch may be useful for designs controlled by the MTD.
Design Basis:
Number of years for power evaluation = 3
Operating hours per year = 50 * 24 * 7 = 8400
Electricity cost = $0.083/kW h
Plant location = Alberta, Canada
Service = quench water bottoms cooler
Control = 50% VFD
Air cooler cost factors: plug header, 304 SS material, 200 psig design pressure, extruded fins,
winterization type 3
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Design Optimization July 2012
Rev 6

• Step 1
See paragraph 3.1.1 and the italicized discussion
Annual average power use factor = 0.6.
Power cost = 3 * 8400 * 0.083 * 0.6 * 0.746 / (0.92 * 0.83) = 1230 $/design HP.
• Step 2
Using a pricing program to determine relative cost, an air cooler with the cost factors noted above will
be ~2.1 times more expensive than the base cost as defined in Table 1. The relative equipment cost for
this item is midway between high and medium.
• Step 3
Interpolating from Table 2, optimized power cost will be in the rage of 15-20% of the equipment cost.
• Step 4
The value of power is characterized as low to medium per Table 3.
• Step 5
The overall coefficient is estimated at 120 (US units)
• Steps 6-8
Four rows look to be optimum from Table 4. The sensitivity of MTD is not considered since we are
already at 4 rows. It is a good idea to bracket the preliminary guess. I would try these designs in XACE:
4 rows with face velocity in the range of 600-650
5 rows with face velocity in the range of 560-610
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General Design Guidelines July 2012
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4.1 Bay Layout
4.1.1 The maximum bundle width for headers shall be based on the maximum shipping width and
extent of preassembly.
For example, at the time of this revision, the cost of shipping a truck load from Houston to Alberta is:
Cost, US$ Load width (W), ft
$9000 < 8 (bundles can be stacked)
$20,000 8< W <12
$35,000 12 <W<16
Prohibitive >16
If the units were partially assembled per, 16 ft is the optimum maximum width, considering the
additional fabrication, erection, fan and motor cost of two smaller bays versus one large bay.
If the unit is knocked down for remote assembly, then one or more bundles per bay at less 8 ft is optimum,
for assembly into the optimum bay size.
Consider a smaller maximum width for cover plate headers for ease of handling the cover plate and
seating the gasket. Consult Project Procurement for local shipping constraints. Consult the user for
preferences regarding maximum cover plate width.
4.1.2 The maximum bay width is determined by the maximum shipping width and amount of shop
For example, when air coolers are provided with shop preassembly per 3.1.4.b, the maximum bay width
is the maximum shipping width. Bay sizes larger than maximum shipping width are possible by
combining two or more bundles per bay and shipping the pieces knocked down. Large bays for induced
draft coolers are also possible with partial shop assembly by building the bays in half sections consisting
of the bundle, plenum and fan ring. The fan and motor support are shipped knocked down. The total
width including recirculation ducts must be considered for fully erected or “shoe box” shop assembly
4.1.3 Acceptable bay aspect ratios (width x length) are a function of the required fan coverage and
number of fans. The minimum number of fans is 2 (API 661 requirement) and this is the standard
arrangement. Where tube bundles are long and skinny, 3 fans must be used to provide the
required coverage. Avoid 3 fans per bay except for special cases with tube lengths greater than
40 ft (12.2 m). Limit fan size to 16 ft (4.88 m) as larger fans are likely to require gears, which
increase air cooler cost.
4.1.4 When the required surface is too small to be provided in a standalone bay, it may be combined
with another service in a common bay.
4.1.5 Any tube length that is permitted by the plant plot plan is acceptable.
4.1.6 Where coolers are grouped together on a piperack, it is convenient (but not mandatory) to use the
same tube length for all, so that header walkways are aligned.
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General Design Guidelines July 2012
Rev 6

4.1.7 The optimum tube length to eliminate a cross mounting beam for piperack mounted units is noted
Equipment Type Tube Length
Forced draft up to 30 ft (9.1 m) tube length Piperack width + 2 ft (0.6 m) +/-
Forced >30 ft (9.1 m) tube length Piperack width + 2 ft (0.6 m) if the piperack is a
double bay construction with two piperacks side
by side. Not applicable if the piperack is a single
bay. The unit will likely have a third column at
the middle of the tube length and a horizontal
beam is required.
Induced draft 1.25 to 1.5 times the piperack width
4.2 Bundle Layout
4.2.1 Use the following table to determine header type:
Header Type Fouling, US (SI) Design Pressure, psig (kPa)
Plug up to 0.003 (0.000525) <3000 (20,700)
Plug >0.003 (0.000525) 350-3000 (2,400-20,700)
Cover plate >0.003 (0.000525) <350 (2,400)
For design pressure greater than 3,000 psig (10,300 kPa), consult a vendor. A manifold or other
special type of header may be required.
4.2.2 The minimum clearance between fin tips is 0.25 inch (6.35 mm). A tighter pitch may be
considered for plant revamps that have a limited plot space.
This is good engineering practice to avoid fouling and facilitate cleaning. You could squeeze in a few
more tubes with a tighter pitch, but it is rarely worth the effort.
4.2.3 The pitch shall be staggered.
4.2.4 The standard tube layout and starting point for most designs is:
Tube OD Fin OD Tube Pitch
1 inch 2.25 inch 2.5 inch
(25.4 mm) (57.15 mm) (63.5 mm)
4.2.5 The tube pitch for bare tubes shall be 1.5 times the tube OD.
4.2.6 The standard number of rows for finned tubes is 4 to 8. Three rows may be used when surface
area requirements are low. When using more than 6 rows, provide a conservative air side design
to assure that the required airflow can be achieved.
Fluor has used up to 10 finned rows with a standard tube pitch, but these are special cases where plot
was cramped. Note that, the greater the number of rows, the harder it is to clean the fins.
4.3 Nozzles
4.3.1 The minimum number of process nozzles is 2 each for inlet and outlet connections on bundles
exceeding 8 ft (2.44 m) in width.
As a rough rule of thumb, pressure drop in the nozzles shall not exceed 10% of the allowable pressure
drop. Air cooler nozzles greater than NPS 4” are fabricated with an oval transition piece that is ½ the
nozzle diameter. Nozzles not greater than NPS 8” are preferred to limit the header width to 4”. Nozzle
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size is usually limited to NPS 12”for a 6”header width. Increase the number of nozzles (within practical
limits) if required to limit the nozzle size to NPS 12”.
4.4 Fouling
Fouling factors are usually specified by the Process Engineer. Fouling is usually omitted on the
air side.
Some typical tube side fouling factors are shown in the Tubular Exchanger Manufacturer’s Association
(TEMA) Standards for Shell and Tube Exchangers, but these are not universally accepted.
Air side fouling is a serious problem in areas where insects or other matrial can collect on the fins. For
example, poplar tree fluff is a nuisance in Alberta. It is much better to eliminate the problem with lint
screens than to allow for fouling with an air side fouling factor.
4.5 Pressure Drop
4.5.1 Allowable pressure drop shall be for clean conditions. Allowance for increased pressure drop due
to fouling shall be made by the Process Engineer using appropriate safety factors for the overall
hydraulic loop calculations.
The fouled pressure drop is used in the hydraulic loop calculations, while the exchanger is designed and
guaranteed for clean pressure drop. Fouled pressure drop calculations are a guess at best. Three ways
to apply a fouling margin follow:
1) Calculate the clean condition and then multiply by a reasonable safety factor based on the service and
starting shear stress.
2) Same as (1) above with safety margin based on the fouling factor. One user’s criterion is noted in the
Fouling resistance (US Customary Units) Multiplication Factor
<0.002 on tube side with alloy tubes or carbon 1.1
steel in non-corrosive service
<0.002 on tube side where some pitting and 1.2
corrosion is expected
0.002 – 0.005 1.3
>0.005 1.5

3) Size the pump for extra flow, say 125% of design plus a control allowance. This, in effect, allows for a
fouled pressure drop of 150% of clean pressure drop at design flow.
4.5.2 Use the smooth tube friction factor for tube side pressure drop. Use the commercial pipe friction
factor if the tube is made from pipe or for existing units where if tube is expected to be corroded
or pitted.
The friction factor for pipe and slightly corroded tubes results in a tube side pressure drop up to 20%
higher than the smooth tube value. As noted in 4.5.1, the Process Engineer should use an appropriate
factor to allow for fouling and/or corrosion in new designs.
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4.6 Liquid / Vapor Separation

When 2 phase flow exists in a header, provide the following details:
• One row per pass is preferred, especially for the first pass with a 2-phase inlet. Where
multiple rows are used, use the XACE phase separation model.
• Each tube pass shall extend of the entire width of the header.
Phase separation should not be ignored. This is what could happen. Two-phase flow may separate in the
header box, especially at the inlet. The liquid will flow to the bottom tube rows and vapor to the top
rows. The top rows will cool or condense the vapor, while the bottom rows cool the liquid. The phases
will then remix in the return or outlet header. The net result is always less heat transfer than if the
phases did not separate. An additional problem in condensing service is that you will get a new heat
curve for the next tube pass with lower MTD after the phases separate. XACE has an option to model the
headers with phase separation. At this time, the accuracy of this mode is uncertain and under review.
However, it is probably better, and certainly more conservative, to use the phase separation model,
rather than ignoring phase separation.
If the tube pass extends the entire width of the header, some liquid may be entrained into the top row of
the return headers. However, two phases at the inlet header are almost certain to have phase separation.
4.7 Screens
4.7.1 When protective screens are used for insects and lint, they shay be located at the periphery of the
air cooler.
Exchanger Type Screen Location
Induced At the bundle inlet
Forced At the periphery of the bay at the vertical columns and
under the motor maintenance walkway
Screens should not be placed in a small box around the fan ring of forced draft units. Screens will plug
quickly and the resultant air side pressure drop will be high.
4.7.2 Fan and motor selection shall have an allowance for pressure drop across the screens.
( )
A suggested value is 1.5 velocity heads 1.5 pv 2 2 g c based on the net free area through the screens.
This allows for some fouling of the screen. This has not been tested, so it is a soft guideline at this time.
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5.1 Fin Design
Fins are made of aluminum. Four types of fin attachment are commonly provided.
• Tension wound, footed (L-footed) fins have a shoulder at the base and are in the shape on an “L”.
They are attached to the tube by winding under tension and secured at the tube end by a zinc collar
or stainless steel staple. The zinc collar provides a better attachment, but it is rarely used anymore
because of environment concerns with the casting process. The footed fin attachment is the least
effective in maintaining the fin-to-tube bond over time. Also, with the use of staples rather than zinc
collars, they are subject to unravelling due to temperature excursions. There is another type of
wrapped fin called overlapped footed, where the base shoulder of one fin rests on the foot of the
adjacent fin, making it sort of “double wrapped”. Supposedly, the corrosion resistance and bond is
improved. However, we are skeptical about the improvement in the bond, and see no use for this fin
considering the increased cost.
• Embedded fins are wrapped and peened into a spiral groove cut into the tube. Tubes need to be one
gauge thicker than the minimum allowed thickness to account for the groove depth. The fin-to-tube
bond is good. Some users will prohibit embedded fins for a damp ocean air environment, because the
tube is not entirely covered by aluminum. The fin-to-tube connection at the groove represents a
possible site for galvanic corrosion when the bundle is out of service or when fans are off. Embedded
fins are not always effectively attached to stainless steel or other materials of similar hardness,
although vendors will generally claim that this is not a problem. A pull test should be required when
fins are embedded into stainless steel or other hard-to-embed materials.
• Extruded fins are extruded onto the tube to form a continuous mechanical bond. The fin bond is
good. The fin type is also known as bi-metallic. Extruded, serrated fins are a special variation with a
cut and twist to the fin. The serrated fin increases turbulence and air side heat transfer coefficient.
However, the increased heat transfer rate is not an efficient return for the increased static pressure
drop and resultant power consumption. Serrated fins are rarely used by Fluor, unless the air side
coefficient dominates the design, and you have low power cost. Serrated fins are more prone to
fouling and hard to clean.
• Knurled footed is a hybrid footed fin. The fin is footed and attached via knurling to the tube. It is
offered by European and Australian vendors, but to date, no one in North America makes this fin.
5.1.1 Fin types are allowed up to the maximum design process fluid inlet temperature noted below.
Unless specified otherwise, assume that the mechanical design temperature noted on the data
sheet is the maximum process fluid inlet temperature.
Fin Type Maximum Temperature
Tension wound, footed 270º F (130º C)
Knurled, footed 390º F (200º C)
Extruded 570º F (300º C)
Embedded 750º F (400º C)
For temperature greater than 750º F (399º C), use bare tubes or a welded type of fin.
The temperature limits are per API 661. Consult the user to determine the maximum temperature for fin
selection. The maximum design temperature for mechanical design is determined for safety based on the
worst possible upset conditions. However, the user may wish to select fins on the normal operating case
or steam out (whichever is highest) because safety is not an issue.
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 5-2
Air Side Design July 2012
Rev 6

5.1.2 Consult the user for fin preference in corrosive air side environments such as damp ocean air.
Embedded fins have a galvanic cell at the fin base which is corrosive if salt laden moisture forms on the
tube. For this reason, some users prefer a fin selection that covers the tube with aluminum. Extruded fins
provide this protection. Footed fins, although covered with aluminum are not favored by some users
because the fin bond degrades with time.
This writer sees no need for special protection in damp ocean air if the cooler is operating more or less
continuously throughout the year. Salt laden condensate can not form on the tubes when the fans are
operating. Some users require special protection as noted above, while others have successful experience
with embedded and footed fins. When special protection is required, the tube ends not covered by
aluminum shall have a suitable coating.
5.1.3 The standard nominal fin height is 0.625 inch (15.875 mm), up to 1.75 inch (44.45 mm) tube OD,
and 0.75 inch (19.05 mm) for 2 inch (50.8 mm) tube OD. 0.5 inch (13 mm) fin height may be
used where desired.
0.5 inch fins are used in winterization applications for higher tube skin temperature, or where the high
tube side resistance controls the design to the extent that excessive finned surface is not useful.
5.1.4 Fin density ranges from 6 to 11 per inch (276 to 433 per m). The standard density is 10 / inch
(394 / m). The use of 11 fins per inch is discouraged as they are more prone to fouling and harder
to clean.
Lower fin densities or bare tubes are used for the same reasons as lower fin height noted above.
5.1.5 Use the XACE default values for L-footed fins to rate knurled, footed fins.
The knurled fins will likely have higher static pressure drop and heat transfer coefficient, but the affect on
the rating is not appreciable.
5.1.6 Model extruded fins by using a pseudo base thickness that results in a fin cross sectional area
equal to the actual extruded fin.
Extruded fins have a tapered profile. The XACE program only accepts a straight profile. Specify the
actual tip thickness and a pseudo base thickness that results in a sectional area equal to the actual
extruded fin with tapered profile. The pseudo base thickness can be calculated using extruded fin
dimensions provided by a vendor. Typical profiles from Hudson Products and pseudo base thickness are
shown on the Extruded Fin Dimensions spreadsheet. There are four choices based on collar thickness.
The collar is the aluminum muff or sleeve before extrusion. Some vendors call this collar the “tube”. If
the fin choice is not known, assume a collar thickness of 0.17 inches. Thicker fins are used for plant sites
with severe erosion (blowing sand) or external corrosion. Fins starting with a collar thickness of 0.16
inch would be the most economical, but the resultant fins are thin and not recommended.
5.1.7 Base your design on the most economical fin type with the acceptable design range:
1) Use tension wound, footed fins when the temperature allows.
2) Use embedded fins:
a) Where tension wound, footed fins are not allowed and the tube material is carbon steel.
b) With stainless steel tubes where the temperature does not allow extruded fins.
3) Use extruded fins:
a) Where tension wound, footed fins are not allowed and the tube material is stainless steel
or other hard to embed materials.
b) Consider using extruded fins for damp ocean air environment. Review with the user.
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 5-3
Air Side Design July 2012
Rev 6

4) Use knurled, footed fins as an economic alternative to extruded or embedded fins. The
vendor list must have vendors that make this fin.
The fin selection is usually left to the vendor to make the most economical choice within allowable design
limits. You do not have to know the actual fin type to create a design. There are compensating effects
and the type of fin does not change the optimum design. However, if embedded fins, are probable, then
make your design on this basis. These fins require thicker tubes, and this affects tube side pressure drop.
Footed fins are the most economical, followed by knurled footed, embedded and extruded.
The cost of extruded versus embedded is a function of the current cost of aluminum relative to the tube
material cost. Tubes with extruded fins are one gauge thinner than the tubes with embedded fins, but
extruded fins have more aluminum. This tradeoff usually favors embedded fins for carbon steel. The cost
differential shrinks for more expensive materials like stainless steel. Where you can use either extruded
or embedded fins, and the tubes are carbon steel, base the design on embedded fins. This will likely be
the most economical fin and will also have the highest tube side pressure drop. If extruded fins are more
economical, the vendor will quote it, and allowable pressure drop is not exceeded. The difference in
thermal performance is negligible, other than tube side pressure drop. Use extruded fins with stainless
steel tubes because the cost differential relative to embedded fins is probably small or it may favor
extruded fins, and you will get a better fin bond.
5.1.8 The performance of extruded, serrated fins may be estimated by adding the following multipliers
to the heat transfer and pressure drop calculated as if the fin were smooth.
a) 1.15 times air side heat transfer coefficient
b) 1.60 times static pressure drop
The recommendation is from a test on a serrated fin with 10 fins / in and 24 circumferential cuts.
5.2 Fan Coverage
5.2.1 The face area of the fans must be equal to at least 40% of the nominal face area of the bundle
(API requirement).
Fan coverage of at least 45% is desirable for forced draft fans, but not mandatory.
5.2.2 There shall be at least two fans per bay (API requirement). This is the standard arrangement.
5.3 Power Requirements
5.3.1 (API requirement) The power required at the motor output shaft is the greater of:
PDR = 1.05 PW / E M
PDR = 1.1 PD
PDR = Drive rated power.

PW = Fan brake power at the winter design temperature with the blade angle set for the
design temperature.
PD = Fan brake power at the design air temperature.

EM = Mechanical efficiency of the power transmission.

Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 5-4
Air Side Design July 2012
Rev 6

5.3.2 Use a total efficiency of 60% for input to the XACE program. The resulting motor size is the
minimum allowed for the rated air flow. Motor size may be increased if required by the vendor.
The HTRI default value is 65%. This is a system efficiency that includes the belt drive as well as the fan.
Fan efficiency for the blade in a wind tunnel can be upwards of 85%. The fan blade efficiency then has to
be corrected for system effects such as fan tip clearance, entrance loss, sealing at the hub, and air leaks.
System losses may be understated by the fan manufacturers. Vendors typically predict total efficiency in
the range of 65 to 75%. We have measured system efficiencies in shop tests as low as 40%. It is prudent
to be conservative here, and even 60% total fan efficiency may be too high. The motor size resulting with
60% efficiency should be the minimum size allowed, even though the vendor may think a smaller size is
Note that total fan efficiency is based on static plus velocity pressure drop. This is the value used by
XACE. Static fan efficiency is based only on static pressure drop. The velocity pressure calculated by
XACE is based on an assumed hub size which is frequently too small. Thus, the calculated velocity
pressure is too low, and we have another reason to use conservative fan efficiency.
5.3.3 Specify the minimum motor size and the required airflow rate on the data sheet. Do not specify
the static pressure drop. Let the vendor calculate this.
5.3.4 The maximum motor sizes are:
Fan Diameter Maximum Motor Size
Up to 11ft (3.35 m) 30 HP (22 kW)
>11 ft (3.35 m) 60 HP (45 kW)
API 661 requires gears on motor sizes greater than 60 HP. Gears are expensive and are avoided for the
normal range of process industry applications. The 30 HP limit on fans less than or equal to 11 ft will
help to keep you out of trouble with respect to noise, or the ability to deliver the required airflow. This is
a soft guideline that can be exceeded if necessary to provide the required airflow. Check noise, and
provide a conservative fan/motor selection to insure delivery of the required air flow
5.3.5 API 661 requires Pw (see 5.3.1) to be evaluated at the minimum ambient temperature. For units
with enclosed warm air recirculation, you can, by agreement with the owner, use the minimum
plenum temperature, rather than the minimum ambient temperature.
There is little harm in operating the motors at greater than nameplate power for a short time at cold
startup. Using the minimum plenum temperature in lieu of the minimum ambient temperature typically
results in the motor being one standard size smaller for cold climates.
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 5-5
Air Side Design July 2012
Rev 6

5.4 Noise
The user shall specify the maximum noise level. If the noise level is not specified assume that the
maximum sound pressure level shall be 85 dBA, measured 3 feet (1 m) from the fan ring.
5.5 Approach Velocity
5.5.1 Air approach velocity not exceeding 800 SFM (4.1 m/s) is desireable. This is a rule-of-thumb for
good air-side distribution, and to mitigate air side fouling and summertime exhaust air
recirculation. A lower approach velocity, say 550 SFM (2.8 nominal m/s), may be in order with
blowing sand or other concerns that would dictate a low air velocity to the air cooler. The
minimum approach velocity requirement may be waived if the resultant column height makes
motor maintenance difficult (for example, for piperack mounted units with solid floors). Consult
the user. Fluor recommends providing the desirable face velocity, even if extended column
height is required.
5.5.2 The approach area for grade mounted units is the net free area for airflow at the periphery of the
air cooler bank from the side frame to grade. The approach area for piperack mounted units is the
net free area for airflow at the periphery of the air cooler bank from the side frame to the motor
maintenance platform elevation. The net free open area at the platform elevation may also be
included as long as it is nominally unobstructed for airflow.
The standard column height provides headroom under the fan ring (for forced draft), but should not be
too tall to provide easy access to the motors. Pipe rack mounted units with solid floors or units at grade
with long tube length and many bays in a bank will need extended column height to satisfy the minimum
approach velocity requirement. The approach velocity of piperack mounted units with open floors is
always very low and not a problem.
Inlet louver open area is ~80% of the gross louver area.
Extended column height at grade is not a problem. Something can be rigged to provide access to the
motors. However, pipe rack mounted units with extended columns may be more problematic. Consult the
user to determine the requirements.
Air coolers with external warm air recirculation are an example where solid floors are provided on the
pipe rack. Warm air recirculation may also be provided with louvers in the floors, or other arrangements
that provide increased airflow in the summer.
5.6 Hot Air Recirculation
5.6.1 See the article “Hot Air Recirculation …” in Appendix A for some guidelines on proper plot
arrangement to avoid hot air recirculation.
5.6.2 Where hot air recirculation is a concern use induced draft, or if using forced draft, increase the
design air temperature for critical services.
The amount of duty lost for each degree of air rise can be estimated as follows:
% duty loss for each ºF of air temperature rise = 55 / MTD
% duty loss for each ºC of air temperature rise = 31 / MTD
Forced draft units with a poor plot layout are susceptible to hot air recirculation
5.7 Static Pressure Drop
The static pressure drop shall not exceed 0.800 inches water pressure. A maximum of 0.700 is preferred.
This is a soft guideline that can be exceeded if necessary to provide the required airflow in special
circumstances, such as plant revamps, or new plants where power cost has no value. Check noise, and
provide a conservative fan/motor selection to insure delivery of the required air flow.
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 5-6
Air Side Design July 2012
Rev 6

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Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 6-1
Tube Side Design July 2012
Rev 6


6.1 Tube Size
6.1.1 The minimum tube diameter per API 661 is 1 inch (25.4 mm).
6.1.2 The tube thickness shall be adequate for design pressure, or the minimum required by API 661.
If the tube corrosion allowance is not specified, assume the following values:
Material Corrosion Allowance, in (mm)
Carbon steel and low alloys 0.03 (0.76)
Copper, copper alloy, stainless steel 0.015 (0.38)
and other high alloys
Titanium 0.005 (0.13)

The minimum API thickness is:

Material Thickness, in (mm)
Carbon steel and low alloys 0.083 min. (2.11 min.)
Copper, copper alloy 0.065 min. (1.65 min.)
High alloy steel and other 0.065 min. (1.65 min.)
non-ferrous material
Titanium 0.049 min. (1.24 min.)
6.1.3 When calculating the thickness of U-tubes, account for the thinning in the U-bend per API 661
(same as TEMA).
6.1.4 When using a minimum wall gauge with carbon steel or ferrous alloys. specify the thickness for
thermal design as the minimum wall thickness plus 10%. Specify the wall thickness for copper
and copper alloys same as the minimum thickness.
The thickness of the purchased tube for carbon steel and ferrous alloys will typically be 5 to 7% more
than the minimum wall thickness. Carbon steel and ferrous alloy seamless tubes will be in the order of
10% thicker than the minimum wall thickness. Copper and copper alloys will be smooth drawn and the
average thickness is close to the minimum wall thickness.
6.1.5 Tube thickness with embedded fins shall account for the groove depth. The purchased tube for
these fin types is one gauge thicker than the minimum required by 6.1.2 above.
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 6-2
Tube Side Design July 2012
Rev 6

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Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 7-1
Process Control and Winterization July 2012
Rev 6


7.1 General
Winterization shall be in accordance with API 661, Annex C. Some requirements are repeated in
the following sections.
7.2 Process Temperature
Air coolers are designed for a maximum ambient temperature. In some cases this temperature may be
reached for only a few days in the summer. When the air temperature is lower than the design air
temperature, additional cooling will result without process controls.
7.2.1 The process outlet temperature may be controlled using one, or a combination of, the following
a) Regulate the airflow
b) Fluid bypass
c) Flooded bundle for condensers
Unless specified otherwise by the user or Process Engineer, assume that the method of control is
to regulate the airflow.
7.2.2 Airflow shall be controlled by the use of motors with variable frequency drive (VFD). The
design requirements are noted in Table 7.5.1, based on the desired degree of process control.
The standard method of controlling airflow is to use motors with VFD. However, there are many ways as
summarized below:
• Auto variable pitch (AV) fans have a diaphragm hub that feathers the fan pitch. They are economical
and power usage is lower at air temperature below design. However, AV pitch fans have come into
disfavor recently due to concerns over reliability.
• Variable frequency drive (VFD) motors vary the motor speed and resultant airflow. VFD drives have
come into favor recently in lieu of AV pitch fans, because they are very reliable.
• Two speed motors provide step rather than continuous control. If there are many bays this can, in
effect, provide continuous control. For example, 6 bays with 6 one-speed and 6 two-speed motors
will have 30 control steps. However, step control that produces different cooling rates in adjacent
bays is not suitable where flow maldistribution is not desirable. When this is the case, the motors
must be operated in unison, i.e. all on, all at ½ speed, etc.
• Turning fans off will provide three steps of control per bay.
• Louvers are reliable but expensive and they do not save power. Louvers by themselves do not provide
stable airflow in the lower range of control. However, louvers are often used in combination with
other methods in cold climates where very low airflow is required. AV pitch fans do not deliver
stable airflow at low blade pitch. VFD motors have a bit longer range and deliver stable airflow
down to ~10% of design. Partially closed louvers help to stabilize the airflow at very low flow by
making the fans operate at increased pitch (for AV fans) or motors at higher frequency (for VFD).
7.2.3 Louvers shall be provided in combination with VFD when airflow requirements of the VFD fan
are less than 20% of design for any operating case.
7.2.4 When not required for control reasons, VFD motors may be considered if justified by power cost
Motor power is a function of motor speed to the third power. The following table illustrates the power
savings obtained by increased extent of VFD.
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 7-2
Process Control and Winterization July 2012
Rev 6

Motor Power as a Fraction of Design

Airflow, Control Mode
% of Design Fans On / Off 50% VFD 100% VFD
100% 1 1.0 1.0
75% Not controlled 0.52 0.42
50% 0.5 0.5 0.125
25% Not controlled 0.125 0.02

7.3 Tube Skin Temperature

The process fluid may have a freeze point, pour point, salt precipitation temperature, or other danger
point that needs to be considered in the air cooler design. This is called the winterization critical
7.3.1 The winterization critical temperature shall be noted on the data sheet.
7.3.2 The air cooler shall be designed to have the tube wall temperature safely above the critical
temperature for the range of operating conditions noted on the data sheet. The clean, turndown
case shall be considered. The cold startup case is considered, but does not control the design.
7.3.3 The tube wall temperature safety margin shall be at least those noted in API 661, Winterization
7.3.4 The tube wall temperature may be controlled by one, or a combination of, the following methods:
1) Airflow control
2) Bare tubes
3) Low fin density
4) Co-current flow
5) Air temperature control via warm air recirculation
Air temperature control is used when the tube wall temperature cannot be controlled by methods
1 - 4, or when the resultant design using these methods is uneconomical. When the air cooler can
be economically designed to control the tube wall temperature for all but startup or shutdown
cases, louvers and heating coil may be provided in lieu of warm air recirculation. Design
requirements are noted in Table 7.5.2.
If airflow control is used for the purpose of controlling the tube wall temperature, it shall be
100% VFD, and the airflow requirements shall not be less than 15% of the design airflow for any
operating case.
Tube wall temperature control can also be achieved by varying the active heat transfer surface
via valves that isolate bundles. This is useful for turndown cases, but is not a practical operating
procedure for most users.
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 7-3
Process Control and Winterization July 2012
Rev 6

7.4 Air Temperature Control

7.4.1 Air temperature control shall normally be provided by forced draft, external, over-the-side warm
air recirculation. Internal recirculation is discouraged. If internal recirculation is used, check the
full range of operating conditions to insure that full duty is performed while also controlling the
skin temperature.
Internal recirculation is more economical than external recirculation, but control is less reliable. With
internal recirculation, it is not unusual to have someplace in the range of operation where it is impossible
to provide full duty while also control the skin temperature. There may be successful installations using
internal recirculation, but the Fluor standard is to use external recirculation when air temperature
control is required. When internal recirculation is used, check the entire range of operating conditions to
preclude the problem noted above.
The standard arrangement for external recirculation is over-the-side because it allows optimum use of
the plot for long tube lengths. Over-the-end is more reliable for one-pass designs in severe service.
Over-both-ends can be used for severe multi-pass services.
7.4.2 Air recirculation shall be over both sides where bundle width exceeds 14 ft or where the tube wall
temperature control is critical (example: viscous oil coolers with high pour point).
7.4.3 The air velocity in the recirculation duct shall not exceed 1,000 ft / min (305 m / min). The duct
size shall be based on the amount of air required to maintain a plenum temperature at least 9º F
(5º C) above the critical point. For problematical designs, such as vacuum steam condensers,
base the amount of recirculated air on a plenum temperature at least 14º F (8º C) above the critical
A very important requirement!
7.4.4 A separate plenum temperature indicator shall be provided for each fan when control is by 50%
VFD. The plenum temperature shall be set by the lowest temperature from either indicator. The
temperature indicator shall be an averaging device such as capillary bulb or resistance
temperature device (RTD). A single device over the entire length of the bundle is acceptable with
100% VFD, but separate indicators are preferred.
7.4.5 When over the side air recirculation is provided with multi-bay units, provide an isolation wall
above the bypass louver. An isolation wall below the louver is not required unless recommended
by the vendor.
7.5 Winterization Type and Control Category
Design requirements to control process temperature of tube skin temperature shall be in
accordance with the following tables:
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 7-4
Process Control and Winterization July 2012
Rev 6

Table 7.5.1 Control Category

Control Degree of Control Design
Category Requirement
C 1) For +/- 2 C control of process outlet temperature 100% VFD
2) For recirculation systems with open floors
3) For winterization type 2B with winterization critical temperature
greater than or equal to the minimum ambient temperature
B For +/- 5 C control of process outlet temperature 50% VFD
A Close control not required None: fans
Table 7.5.2 Winterization Type
Winterization Description Design Criteria
1 No louvers or heating coil Winterization critical temperature is less than the
minimum ambient temperature.
2A Louvers Same as Type 1, but louvers are added where the
minimum airflow of the VFD fan is less than 20% of
design (Control Cases C and B)
2B Louver plus heating coil Winterization critical temperature is greater than or
equal to the minimum ambient temperature
(Note 4)
3 Warm air recirculation 1) Where tube skin temperature using only air flow
(usually external over the control results in airflow less than 15% of the
side) design airflow.

(Note 5) 2) For control mode C where minimum airflow is

less than 10% of the design airflow.
1. Tube skin temperature shall be calculated for the clean, turndown condition at minimum ambient air
2. Minimum air flow shall be calculated for the clean, turndown condition at minimum ambient air
3. Tube skin temperature safety margin shall be in accordance with API 661, winterization Annex.
4. The heating coil shall be directly under the bundle. Remote auxiliary heaters such as Ruff Neck
heaters are not allowed unless the area under the bundle is enclosed.
5. A heating coil or auxiliary heater is required with warm air recirculation.
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 8-1
Special Applications July 2012
Rev 6


8.1 Total Steam Condensers
The first row that sees the coldest air condenses the most steam. The next row that sees preheated air
from first row condenses less steam, and so on for the remaining rows. When the outlet pass has multiple
rows, the top rows only partially condense the steam while the bottom rows do some subcooling. Steam
from the top rows may backflow to the colder rows. This is normal and not harmful unless the reverse
flow velocity is high enough to cause liquid holdup which can result in corrosion due to water hammer,
freezing of the condensate, or loss of duty due to accumulation of non-condensable gas (e.g. air in
vacuum service). The condition is more severe with turndown or low ambient air temperature where the
air flow is tempered to control the duty.
Liquid holdup is particularly prominent at operating pressure less than 40 psia (275 kPa(a)).
8.1.1 A design with two passes and not more than one row for the outlet pass is preferred. If this
arrangement is not feasible, one or a combination of the options noted in 8.1.2 shall be
8.1.2 The design shall be evaluated for liquid holdup throughout the range of operating conditions.
Subcooling in the cold rows must be eliminated, or at least lessened, to avoid high backflow
velocity that results in liquid holdup. Design options include:
a) Single pass designs shall have not more than 4 rows, and tube length shall not be greater than
360 times the tube outside diameter.
b) Vary the fin height, and/or fin density, with lower height or density for the cold rows.
c) Vary the tube diameter, with larger diameter for the cold rows.
d) Provide orifice restrictions such that more steam is forced into the cold rows.
e) Provide a two-stage condenser. The first stage partially condenses the steam (say 80-90%).
The second stage is arranged in such a way as to avoid subcooling, for example an inclined
tube with steam entering at the bottom.
8.1.3 Special vendor proprietary designs are typically used for vacuum steam condensers.
8.1.4 Where warm air recirculation is required, consider over-the-end ducting for single pass
8.1.5 Any required subcooling shall be handled in a dedicated section. Generally, this would be one
row with one or more passes that provide a high condensate velocity
8.2 Partial Steam Condensers
When the outlet quantity of vapor is low, partial condensers may be subject to the same problems
as noted above for total condensers. Check the design to insure that subcooling and backflow is
not present in the cold rows.
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page 8-2
Special Applications July 2012
Rev 6

8.3 Viscous Fluid Coolers

Viscous fluid coolers can have a phenomenon called unstable flow, which causes severe flow
maldistribution. This results in loss of performance, thermal stress, and / or winterization problems. The
design should be safely above the laminar regime, say Re >3000, including turndown.
8.3.1 Laminar flow in air coolers is not allowed unless the cooler is a one tube (or pipe) serpentine coil.
Alternate design options include:
a) Increase allowable pressure drop to the extent required for turbulent or transition flow.
b) Use indirect cooling. The viscous fluid is cooled on the shell side of a shell and tube
exchanger with a cooling medium that is, in turn, cooled by the air cooler.
8.3.2 It is preferable that laminar flow be avoided for the turndown case, as well as the design case. If
this is not feasible, check the turndown case for unstable flow. Laminar flow is acceptable only if
unstable flow is not detected in the range of operating conditions.
To check for unstable flow, simulate different cooling rates in adjacent tubes and check the pressure
drop. Different cooling rates can happen for several reasons, such as process flow maldistribution in
the header, damaged or fouled fins, air side flow maldistribution, and/or air side temperature
maldistribution. Pick a reason and do the simulation. Then balance the flow for equal pressure drop
in each parallel circuit. For example, assume that there is less flow to the outer tubes; say 10%, due
to flow maldistribution in the header. Let the outlet temperature float lower to use up the surface. If
the resulting pressure drop is lower than the full flow case, the design is OK. The flow will stabilize
for equal pressure drop after a little maldistribution at somewhere less than 10%. The
maldistribution is self correcting and flow is stable. If the low flow case has higher pressure drop,
then you have runaway, unstable flow. This can occur in deep laminar flow where pressure drop is
more sensitive to viscosity than flow rate.
8.4 Condensers with Water Wash
Provide one row per pass.
Some vapor services have corrosive salts that sublimate from the gas phase when cooled. Water wash is
used as a protective measure to dissolve the problematic compounds. Water is injected upstream of the
exchanger resulting in gas saturated with water vapor, plus liquid water. The tubes are wetted by the
incoming water as well as the water that condenses from the saturated vapor. With multiple rows, the
incoming water (or water that condenses from a previous pass) goes to the bottom row. The top row(s)
are protected only by the water that condenses from the saturated vapor. Thus, a top tube is not
protected very well at the beginning of a pass where there is only a small amount of water. If this location
coincidentally happens to be at the sublimation temperature, there will not be enough water to dissolve
the salts.
As noted in 4.6, some liquid may be entrained into the top row of the return headers, but phase separation
is certain at the inlet header with multiple rows. So, one row for the inlet pass is a must. If effective water
wash is critical, then the design should also have one row for all passes.

Another desirable design feature is annular flow. This flow regime results in liquid coating the entire
surface. Try to do this for effluent coolers. However, it is impractical for the entire tube length of
overhead condensers, or for some turndown cases.
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page A-1
Appendix A April 2012
Rev 6


Recommended Literature

1 Hot Air Recirculation by Air Coolers

By A.Y. Gunter and K.V. Shipes
Twelfth National Heat Transfer Conference
A.I.Ch.E. – A.S.M.E.
Tulsa, Oklahoma 15-18, 1971

2 Air Cooled Exchangers in Cold Climates

By K.V. Shipes
Chemical Engineering Progress
July, 1974
Air Cooler Design Guidelines Page A-2
Appendix A April 2012
Rev 6

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