Fouling Factor

Introduction to fouling factor

The performance of heat exchangers usually deteriorates with time as a result of accumulation of deposits on heat transfer surfaces. The layer of deposits represents additional resistance to heat transfer and causes the rate of heat transfer in a heat exchanger to decrease. The net effect of these accumulations on heat transfer is represented by a fouling factor Rf , which is a measure of the thermal resistance introduced by fouling.

Types of fouling

Fouling by precipitation of solid deposits

The most common type of fouling is the precipitation of solid deposits in a fluid on the heat transfer surfaces. You can observe this type of fouling even in your house. If you check the inner surfaces of your teapot after prolonged use, you will probably notice a layer of calcium-based deposits on the surfaces at which boiling occurs. This is especially the case in areas where the water is hard. The scales of such deposits come off by scratching, and the surfaces can be cleaned of such deposits by chemical treatment. Now imagine those mineral deposits forming on the inner surfaces of fine tubes in a heat exchanger and the detrimental effect it may have on the flow passage area and the heat transfer. To avoid this potential problem, water in power and process plants is extensively treated and its solid contents are removed before it is allowed to circulate through the system. The solid ash particles in the flue gases accumulating on the surfaces of air preheaters create similar problems.

Fouling by corrosion

Another form of fouling, which is common in the chemical process industry, is corrosion and other chemical fouling. In this case, the surfaces are fouled by the accumulation of the products of chemical reactions on the surfaces. This form of fouling can be avoided by coating metal pipes with glass or using plastic pipes instead of metal ones.

Biological fouling

Heat exchangers may also be fouled by the growth of algae in warm fluids. This type of fouling is called biological fouling and can be prevented by chemical treatment.

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