Certain chemicals possess the ability to store or transport thermal energy for the purpose of cooling one system and heating an opposing system. These chemicals are known as heat exchange fluids, or heat transfer fluids, and can be used in either their gaseous state or liquid state. Though it sounds somewhat complex, these fluids are utilized in hundreds of processes and industrial applications that involve heating and cooling.
Some common systems that typically involve the use of these chemicals include:
- Car radiators
- Air conditioning
- Power plants
- Food processing applications
What are Some Examples of Heat Exchange Fluids?
The most common heat transfer fluid is easily water, because of its high heat capacity, availability, and desirable exchange properties. However, water has a temperature range that may be too narrow for certain systems, especially ones that require a fluid that does not freeze below zero degrees Celsius.
There are many other chemicals used for heat exchange other than water, such as:
- Ethylene glycol
- Molten salt
- Synthetic hydrocarbon-based liquids
- Silicone based liquids
Not just any liquid can be used as a heat transfer fluid, as these chemicals require specific characteristics that enable them to successfully transport and store heat energy without damaging equipment or decreasing efficiency:
High thermal conductivity – to maximize heat transfer rate
Low viscosity – to allow for easy flow, decreasing potentially high pumping costs
Non-corrosive – to prevent corrosion of pipes and equipment, resulting in less maintenance costs or replacements
Wide temperature range (high boiling point, low freezing point) – to enable the fluid to stay in the original phase throughout the process
Traditional fluids used for heat exchange have a reputation for being very toxic to both humans and the environment. For example, trichloroethylene, a refrigerant, is a highly toxic carcinogen that can cause multiple negative health effects and pollute drinking water through leaks.
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