Heavy Fouling in Heat Exchangers: Cleaning vs. Antifouling Coating

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For as long as heat exchangers have existed, industrious engineers have been seeking ways to overcome fouling’s negative impact on efficiency.

The standard response to fouling is to flush the exchanger with aggressive chemistries or scour the unit with pressurized water or steam. While these approaches often restore performance to some degree, they also cause serious difficulties. For instance, cleaning a heat exchanger is disruptive, and the results are frustratingly temporary even after heavy cleaning.

An alternative technology worth considering is Exchanger Industry Limited’s proven antifouling coatings.

Fluoropolymer coating applied to the tube-side of a heat exchanger decreases the unit’s susceptibility to fouling – in essence, preventing material deposition before it happens. This solution eliminates the need for aggressive cleanings; however, there are a few things to consider before committing to the upgrade.

The Ongoing Costs of Heavy Fouling

The direct costs to resolve heat exchanger fouling are evident, as they’re either related to cleaning or prevention. It’s the indirect costs—the inefficiencies, quality impacts and safety implications—that, while every bit as real, are more challenging to nail down.

These indirect costs include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Inconsistent or unstable exchanger duty
  • Increased fuel costs tied to elevated pressure drop
  • Quality impacts on downstream processes
  • Safety & environmental considerations for both cleaning and disposal activities
  • Wear and tear on the unit (due to frequent cleaning and maintenance)
  • Inflated capital costs from oversized or redundant units

Determining the total cost of exchanger fouling for your heat transfer process isn’t straightforward. However, partnering with an industry specialist makes calculating both direct and indirect costs easier.

Working hand-in-hand with your engineering, operations or maintenance team, Exchanger Industries Limited will help quantify the return on investment (ROI) for your solution.

Cleaning as a solution

A wide variety of industries, including oil production, food processing and desalination, regularly deal with heavy fouling. The typical response is to clean-in-place (CIP) with diminishing returns or forego CIP altogether in favor of regular mechanical cleaning.

Mechanical Cleanings

Hydroblasting or wire brushing physically removes scale, algae, solids and salts from heat exchanger tubes and generally returns the unit to a near-clean condition. The downside, of course, is that the unit must be opened up to access the tubes, meaning heavy equipment and extended downtime. On top of this, there’s the inherent risk of equipment damage, inevitable tube wall loss and accelerated wear and tear on the unit that all act to shorten the expected life of your assets.

Chemical Cleanings

Chemical cleanings dissolve and flush foulant from heat exchanger tubes. The solvents span the extremes of the pH spectrum, with both highly caustic (ex. sodium hydroxide) and highly acidic (ex. hydrochloric or hydrofluoric acids) solutions seeing common use. This type of cleaning involves aggressive chemicals with their associated safety risks and hefty disposal costs, not to mention downtime.

As long as fouling is addressed with cleaning (which only eases the severity of the problem), the issue will never be truly “solved.” Instead, consider a strategy that prevents the situation in the first place.

Antifouling Coating as a Solution

Exchanger Industries’ leading-edge antifouling coating is effective, long-lasting and – thanks to its unique fluoropolymer chemistry – imparts antifouling properties to the heat exchanger itself by repelling substances at the molecular level.

This proprietary technology has proven itself over multi-year testing in heavy-fouling oil sands applications, allowing heat exchangers to function at their initial efficiency from day one onward.

Additional advantages include:

Increased Uptime

Production isn’t halted for cleanings.

Environmental Benefits

Disposal of cleaning waste is reduced or eliminated.

Improved Safety

Less handling of harsh cleaning chemicals.

Operational efficiency

Consistent exchanger performance.

Capital savings

Downsizing to smaller units while maintaining efficiency and elimination of redundant swing units.

Exchanger Industries’ antifouling coating is an initial design consideration alongside unit sizing, process flow characteristics and calculated fouling factors. The onetime, upfront cost of coating is easily justified with its rapid payback period.

Reducing Heavy Fouling in Heat Exchangers

After investing so much in the design and fabrication of your heat exchanger, why should you still have to deal with heavy fouling? From day one onward, why should you expect production losses and additional fuel consumption when these costs could be avoided?

While a coated heat exchanger will always cost more than a conventional unit, the avoided cleaning costs and consistent unit efficiency create a strong business case to invest in Exchanger Industries’ fluoropolymer coating.

Exchanger Industries Limited has been innovating heat transfer solutions for more than 60 years. Contact us to learn how our antifouling coating returns a rapid ROI and addresses heavy fouling head-on.

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We provide custom-engineered heat exchangers and antifouling solutions across a wide range of industries, including oil and gas, renewable energy, desalination and food processing. Just imagine what we can do for you.

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