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Focus | June 2011

Cooling Towers: This sector is set to boom

The global cooling towers market is set to reach $1.8 billion by 2015 and competition has heated up with the presence of low-cost Asian manufacturers like India and China, says Daya Kingston.

Cooling towers became popular during the beginning of the industrial revolution. Huge industries required a method to remove heat successfully from the cooling process, leading to the invention of cooling towers. In the modern world, they find application in industries like power plants, petrochemical plants, semiconductor plants and so on. Industrial cooling towers are considered crucial for industries where cooling is an important part of the industrial process. In some cases, cooling may be a part of the product manufacture process or to maintain ambient temperature. A cooling tower dissipates heat into the atmosphere, which is spread over a large area. So adequate care must be taken while designing one to prevent any ecological or environmental damage.

Global Overview

The global market for cooling towers is set to reach $1.8 billion by 2015 and currently US and Europe dominate this market. On the global front, it is quite mature with little scope for growth of new market participants.

The market will tend to veer towards repairs and innovations, based on various environmental regulations imposed by governments across the world. This is a highly technology sensitive market and newer technology can tilt the balance in favour of growth. Competition in this segment has heated up with the presence of low-cost Asian manufacturers like India and China.

Vibrant Growth In India

India is quite warm throughout the year so cooling towers are essential in industrial applications and our country has become a major hub for their manufacture. Initially, they were manufactured from wood but they have now evolved into more durable material like fibreglass reinforced plastic (FRP) and roller compacted concrete (RCC).

Initially cylindrical cooling towers were most favoured but as their popularity and function grew, so did the shape and size and today the most favoured shape is hyperbolic as it offers superior structural strength and resistance to ambient wind loadings. However, there is no hard and fast rule and depending on the client's needs, there are cuboid, bottle-shaped and even rectangular ones.

When queried about the types of towers offered by the company, T Parashuram, President and CEO, GEA Cooling Tower Technologies (India) at Chennai said, "BGR Energy Systems in combination with GEA has installed natural draught cooling towers (NDCT) ranging from 110 metres (height) to a maximum of 180 metres. The tallest tower in India at 202 metres and with a base diameter of 145 metres is under construction for a 2x600 MW TPS at Kalisindh for the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam."

When queried about which from the various types i.e., wet, dry, closed circuit, natural draft, mechanical draft, induced draft, forced draft, crossflow and counter-flow would be most efficient, he said, "We manufacture counter-flow hyperbolic and induced draft towers as they are most efficient in terms of heat exchange and operating costs. Both NDCT's and induced draft cooling towers (IDCT's) have their own advantages and disadvantages and the choice depends on the project and the client. But a counter-flow tower is always preferred over cross-flow as it offers a uniform cold water temperature due to the nature of air-water contact in the system. As a rule, counter-flow cooling fill is more effective than cross-flow cooling fill because in counter-flow less m3 of cooling fill is required (for example 30 per cent) than in cross-flow assuming that the design data and cooling fill characteristics as type and mesh width are the same. Ease of construction of counter-flow towers makes it a better option as compared to cross-flow ones, which are cumbersome to construct due to their asymmetric design. The enclosed nature of a counter-flow tower restricts the exposure of water to direct sunlight, thereby retarding the growth of algae."

About the market size of cooling towers, he said, "The annual market size is estimated to be Rs 25 billion and the company holds a 10-12 per cent market share. With such a buoyant power market ahead and future plans of in-house manufacturing of critical cooling tower components, the company is focused on increasing its share to 25 per cent in the next 2-3 years."

About whether hyperbolic natural draft (ND) towers will ring the death knell for spherical ones he said, "Hyperbolic ND towers are highly suitable due to structural stability and operational integrity. Their shell is thin, measuring just 200 mm or less and, yet it is “firm as a rock” under high winds and seismic loads. Spherical towers are not popular in India due to higher re-circulation of exit air as the cells are clustered within a confined area."

Heat Transfer Methods

The primary classification is into dry or wet towers and some hybrid wet-dry combinations exist. Wet cooling towers rely on latent heat of water evaporation to exchange heat between the process and air passing through the tower.

In dry cooling towers, this process is carried out through a surface which separates the working fluid from ambient air but does not use evaporation. Fluid coolers or closed circuit cooling towers are hybrids where the working fluid moves through a tube bundle where clean water is sprayed and a fan-induced draft applied.

Challenges

The major challenge that companies need to overcome is the necessity for water, a scarce resource in India. Thermal power plants for instance consume large quantities of water for cooling and there needs to be a constant source.

A majority of industries use 'once-through cooling systems', which means water once used for cooling is discharged. Shortage of labour is another major issue that manufacturers have to contend with.

Growth Drivers

Growth in the Indian market is driven by factors like the increasing need for tightening legislation, energy efficiency, replacement demand, rising greenfield projects and capacity expansion. With energy being a scarce resource, there is a tendency towards energy savings and this will drive the cooling tower industry strongly. Replacement of old cooling towers and innovation in new product designs with value-added functional features and benefits will propel the market forward.

The future for cooling towers in India is quite bright with the growth in industries and infrastructure.

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