A cool new idea could revolutionize the electric power industry

University of Cincinnati researchers have developed a more efficient air-cooling system for power plants

University of Cincinnati researchers say they have found a solution to one of the biggest environmental problems facing the energy industry: water consumption.

The William H. Zimmer Power Station, located near Moscow, Ohio, is a 1.35-gigawatt (1,351 MW) coal power plant. Planned by Cincinnati Gas and Electric (CG&E) draws cooling water from the Ohio River.

Power plants in the United States need as much water each year as all of the nation’s farms combined — an estimated 133 billion gallons per day, according to federal numbers. This poses an enormous strain on water resources and has a detrimental environmental impact.

But Raj Manglik and Milind Jog, professors of mechanical engineering in UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, say they have developed a new air-cooling system for power plants that uses no water but is nearly as effective as water-cooled systems.

“At some point this will be a water crisis — and it will be rather soon,” Manglik said. “That was the primary motivation. Can we make air cooling significantly more viable so that companies would adopt it regardless?”??

The project was funded by a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Most power plants in the United States are built alongside bodies of water to meet the demands of their cooling systems. Some water is lost through evaporation in cooling towers. In other cases, warmer water is pumped back into lakes, rivers or bays, which can raise the ambient temperature, killing fish and other aquatic organisms and creating toxic algae blooms. Scientists call this “thermal pollution.”

“The water around power plants can be significantly warmer than the rest of a river or lake,” Manglik said. “This adversely impacts fish and plants and destroys the ecosystem.”

The two researchers used their backgrounds in experimental heat transfer, computational modeling and fluid dynamics to design a better air-cooled condenser for power plants. Like the radiator of a car, the condenser has a meshwork of metal fins specially designed by UC’s researchers to draw heat away in the circulated air.

UC engineers designed new condenser fins that shed heat more efficiently in power plants.
CREDIT Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

UC’s researchers developed enhanced metal fins with a unique geometric design that favorably alters the air flow over them. This provides far better heat convection for cooling steam in the air-cooled condenser.

“The flow of air gets disrupted with more mixing and more efficient heat transfer compared to traditional fins used on these air-cooled condensers,” Jog said.

Manglik said there was no single “Eureka!” moment but rather deliberate improvements over time.

“We use carefully controlled experimentation coupled with computational modeling,” Manglik said. “Modeling helps us understand the physics. Experiments give us the results that can be used to optimize design.”

Shedding more heat increases the efficiency of the power plants, which means they can produce more electricity. And since the cooling system is more effective, it doesn’t have to be as big and costly to build, they said. Laboratory scale tests suggested the researchers’ system can reduce the cooling temperature from today’s 140 degrees to as low as 115 degrees.

UC doctoral students Kuan-Ting Lin and Dantong Shi tested a small prototype in an engineering lab. Now UC is partnering with Taneytown, Maryland, company EVAPCO on a large-scale prototype test of the design at the company’s labs.

But UC’s engineers didn’t stop with condenser fins. They also are working on a solution to one of the energy industry’s biggest conundrums. In the summer, electricity demand typically peaks during the hottest part of the day when a plant’s cooling systems are least efficient.

Professors Jog and Manglik are developing a better system to precool the circulated air using a heat sink that captures cooler temperatures at night.

“The second part we’re developing is an air precooler coupled with thermal energy storage,” Jog said. “So at night when the temperatures are low, the system ‘stores’ the cold. And that is used during the peak times to cool the air before it goes to the condenser.”

UC’s researchers also are working with Babcock & Wilcox, in Lancaster, Ohio, which in 2016 acquired the Italian company SPIG specializing in power plant cooling systems.

Manglik said air-cooled power plants will become increasingly valuable in arid parts of the world in the face of growing industrialization and climate change.

“There is already a water shortage, exacerbated by the global need for energy,” Manglik said. “We will need a substantially large number of new power plants if the rest of the world begins to consume energy at the rate we do in the United States.”

The UC researchers have been working on patenting their ideas since submitting their grant proposal in 2015. Manglik said their results of the full-scale experiments will have to be persuasive.

“The inertia in engineering systems is mind-boggling. You go to an oil refinery or a petrochemical plant, and some of the technologies being used are 40 or 50 years old,” Manglik said. “Efficiency is not always a measure that matters.”

The two researchers have collaborated on diverse research projects at UC over the past decade.

“Dr. Jog has special talents in computational physics and modeling,” Manglik said. “I add to that experimental insights. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty — literally.”

“I think that synergy makes it work,” Jog said.

###

From Eurekalert  PUBLIC RELEASE: 

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121 thoughts on “A cool new idea could revolutionize the electric power industry

  1. I did not bother to check the numbers but a significant fraction of that amount of water is very likely used for once through cooling. It goes into the plant upstream and goes back out downstream warmer. Of course billions and billions of fish die, well actually fish eggs but the fish only umbers are so low that it is not scary.

      • “Once through has been illegal for decades. Every plant that uses water, outflows into cooling ponds.”

        Not in the U.S.

        https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=37453

        From that site:

        “The amount of water needed by power plants varies by region. In the eastern United States, where sources of water are more readily available, once-through cooling systems are more prevalent. Once-through cooling systems withdraw large amounts of water to cool the power plant, and they do not reuse water like recirculating cooling systems do. As a result, power plants in the eastern United States withdraw more water per unit of electricity generated than those in the west.”

        • Back when the Cordova, IL nuke plant and I were young, they drew from and discharged into the Mississippi river. Somewhere along the line, the regulators decided the warm water was too hard on the trout, so they made Cordova dig a three mile long cooling canal at some expense to the rate payers. The canal is now three miles of grass with some puddles you could fish in if you had a top security clearance and a need to know, and the plant is back discharging into the Mississippi.

          In my airport bum days, I used to fly the local college types up and down the river in the winter to count eagles. The outlying ponds and creeks froze up, so they (the eagles, not the professors) came in to fish. The power plant discharge was great for them, as it kept the river open for a good ways downstream, and good for the fish because the open surface helped get oxygen into the water.

          The other main areas of open water with eagle populations were the sewage lift stations that dumped into the river.

          • Mike,

            I wondered why the moat was dry around Quad. I guess at some point in the past they demonstrated that the thermal impact to the Mississippi was minimal (maybe even beneficial?) and so switched back to a river discharge. A quick search revealed this public record on file with the NRC documenting a provisional permit…but which also describes the cooling cycle and etc. I think it’s on topic enough to post…

            https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1209/ML12095A169.pdf

            Regards,

            rip

          • In Florida, the warm water discharge keeps the manatees significantly farther north than they could normally survive in winter.

        • Mark Bahner says:
          Not in the U.S.

          MarkW is from a practical viewpoint correct. Even the Zimmer plant in the pic has a closed-cycle cooling system (re-uses the same water over & over). Make-up water lost thru evaporation comes from the river, but the heat from that goes into the dang air! No significant-sized power-plant built in the last 40 yrs has a once-thru cooling system. And there isn’t a shred of evidence that discharge of slightly warmer water has any negative effect on river-life. None. Just more fake-effects/scare-mongering and a waste of engineering effort and taxpayer-funded grants.

          • Don’t ask for facts. A progressive stance is: If it is not the same as in my grandmother’s days, it must be wrong.

          • Although it is pushing 40 years, the Kintigh coal-fired power plant in New York uses once through cooling into Lake Ontario and came on line in 1984. Governor Cuomo wants to shut it down in a couple of years because it burns coal.

      • The amount of ‘green’ rhetoric in this one triggers my BS detector. It ‘feels’ like an investment scam.

        When the outflow is too warm, you need to use the cooling towers more. That’s what they are for. Not as efficient, but the heat does not go into the river (during the summer).
        Radiator design is a well matured technology. The common theme is to have as much air as possible along the fins. Not to restrict airflow by creating turbulence. If they found something new, great. Set up a test on the University’s HVAC installation and wake me up if it works.

        Operators are always looking to squeezing another tenths of a percent of efficiency out of their plants. When you work with GigaWatts, every little bit counts in the pocketbook.

        • Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this comes from EurekAlert! so it has to be taken with one Na+ ion and one Cl- ion.

        • No: Surprisingly this is actually (as far as I can tell) good engineering development.

          Basically they have worked on best possible heat transfer for an air cooled radiator – that will work in a car as well if needs be – and I would expect the Formula 1 car racers to be all over this like a rash as well. 30% less radiator weight? That’s 0.3 seconds a lap!

          The idea of using an airsourced heatpump equipped with one of these fancy radiators to store night time cool is good too: you end up with an efficient air sourced aircon type setup using these rads, cooling say an underground and very large tank of water, and you then circulate the final condensers through that.

          Of course all this comes at the cost of greater complexity. And rather pointless in the case of e.g. the UKs nuclear power stations which are all built by the sea…

          Still in countries with poor supplies of cold water it may have a place.

          • Still in countries with poor supplies of cold water it may have a place.

            The source-water temp is irrelevant — cooling tower water-temps will come to an equilibrium point in the closed-cycle.

            Air-cooled cooling systems are occasionally needed for plants in very dry areas or that have a lack of sufficient water sources, but as already pointed out above, air-cooled radiator designs are mature and have been for a long time.

          • ” I would expect the Formula 1 car racers to be all over this like a rash as well. 30% less radiator weight? That’s 0.3 seconds a lap!”

            LMAO. Yes that matters at that level. You add up enough 0.3 second advantages and pretty soon you are talking some serious seconds shaved off.

          • When I was looking into putting a trailer hitch on one of my previous cars, the dealer strongly recommended adding an radiator to the oil system as the same time.

            I decided that if towing was going to stress the car that much, I should spend my time investigating other solutions.

        • Yes and no.. obviously forcing air through (as in a car) is better than passive convection, but the point about breaking up the airflow is, I suspect, about eliminating pockets of ‘dead air’.

          My experience with fan blown heatsinks for electronics showed that beyond a certain airspeed most of the gains to be had, had been had! If this allows a higher final figure, then that’s good engineering.

          When it comes to radiators really there hasn’t been much ‘development’

          Most applications are not sensitive to absolute efficiency – only WWII military aircraft engines and racing cars are really in the ‘most cooling for least weight/drag and to heck with the cost’

          And today CNC milling and other advanced fabrication techniques make shapes more complex than a load of fins soldered to a load of tubes, possible.

          • Not having read it, I assume you’re correct. I would guess that in addition to removing stagnation points this is also about increased turbulence to increase mixing and break up boundary layers.

        • RLu,

          I’m genuinely interested to see where this development goes. Engineering in mature fields tends to be about squeezing out additional margin, at small percentages. Increased complexity and capabilities in CFD allows us to maximize things that weren’t able to be tested before. In fact, introducing turbulence and maximizing mixing is a major effort in nuclear fuel assembly design optimization, and it’s done through exactly the same method of numerical modeling and experimental design as was described in the article.

          All the best.

          rip

        • RLu said, “The common theme is to have as much air as possible along the fins. Not to restrict airflow by creating turbulence. ”

          There is another consideration, you need the air or water that is immediately adjacent to the radiator to move away after it had absorbed or released its heat. In other words, you need some turbulence. So, I do believe their claims of better efficiency.

          The most important question is completely omitted by the article. Greater efficiency only matters in rare situations. Someone else already mentioned race cars.

          The question really is its cost effectiveness. It may be more economical to use an older type of radiator design, but make more of it, to achieve the same efficiently.

        • Air cooling isn’t anything new. It’s just not effective on a massive scale.
          My senior design project way back in college was to build a plant in Saudi Arabia (where cooling towers are illegal), and the scope of air cooling systems was absurd. It’s just not an efficient.

          I can see these working. To tell the truth, it’s reminiscent of a plate and frame heat exchanger, but you’ll need some pretty large airflows to move enough heat.

        • RLu, it’s not my field but I do know that be introducing turbulence the ancient Greeks made their sewer systems pretty much self cleaning.

          Perhaps maximum airflow along the fins isn’t the most efficient. A bit of turbulence means a longer linger time for the air and more heat transference. They could simply be looking at the problem from a different angle. The purpose of cooling fins or radiators is to maximise heat transference, maybe a bit of turbulence works better in low wind conditions?

          Interesting to follow the research either way.

    • “In other cases, warmer water is pumped back into lakes, rivers or bays, which can raise the ambient temperature, killing fish and other aquatic organisms and creating toxic algae blooms.”

      “Of course billions and billions of fish die, well actually fish eggs”

      The similarity is that both statements are utterly false. Their existence are solely to create false impressions in gullible people.
      And no, not even fish eggs are killed.

      • It isn’t the warm water that’s an issue. It’s what happens when the plant is shut down for re-fueling, or maintenance turn around, or emergency scram. I remember the articles in the local paper when Oyster Creek in NJ would trip out or do a refueling about all the fish going belly up as the water went back to normal. I don’t know if they finally caught wise and started doing their shutdowns in the summer, but there’s a lot less of that noise in recent years.

        OK, I did a look up, and it seems the station is now closed.

      • Bill, the very old coal power plant I worked at had a once-thru cooling system where people in the winter fished in the (slightly) warmed discharge because fish huddled there!

        It’s funny how real evidence almost always contradicts the scare-mongering headlines.

    • Please support your statement with facts and studies. I don’t believe you have any factual support but I would be happy to review whatever data you have.

      • It is a fact that salt water fish congregate and spawn in the warmer water of a power station water outfall .

      • It works in brackish water too. At the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant on the Baltic fishing is prohibited in the bay where the cooling water outlet is, but people sneak in at night.

    • We always fished below the power plant in Williamsport Md because the fish love warm water. Same thing at Lake Anna in Virginia. I would guess any ‘harm’ (speculation?) is more than offset by benefits. An engineer from Louisiana once told me that for fishing in the Gulf they head straight to the oil drilling platforms because that is where the fish are. I wonder if these guys know what they are talking about.

      • My cousin and I used to do the same thing near the outflow of the Millstone power plant in Connecticut. Lots of fish there!

    • Western Canada here. When I was young the local coal fired power plant ran back cooling water into the reservoir. It was the best fishing in the whole area. If this works so well for steam I wonder if it would provide improved efficiency for A/C and Refrigeration condensors. There’s probably more power and money to be saved there if it applies.

    • “billions and billions of fish die, well actually fish eggs but the fish only umbers are so low that it is not scary.”

      Was never true – fish simply don’t prevail in the cooling outlets of power plants.

      What IS true – there’s drought years when rivers levels fall that low that on some spots fish can’t no more leave the spots. And die.

      https://www.google.com/search?client=ms-android-samsung&q=drought+years+dead+fish+river+Rhein&spell=1&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwilpYqR7qrgAhVGjCwKHX8TDQAQBSgAegQICxAC&biw=360&bih=560

  2. Palo Verde Nuclear Plant in Arizona (~40 miles west of Phoenix),

    – “Palo Verde Generating Station is the largest power plant in the United States by net generation.”
    ……..
    “The Palo Verde Generating Station is located in the Arizona desert, and is the only large nuclear power plant in the world that is not located near a large body of water. The power plant evaporates the water from the treated sewage from several nearby cities and towns to provide the cooling of the steam that it produces. ”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palo_Verde_Nuclear_Generating_Station

    Ooops. So much for “Memes.”

    • For your viewing pleasure of a zero-CO2 emissions, zero waste heat to a water-body power plant. A power plant that DOES produce 1.4 GW x2 = 2.8 GW (the two largest 60 Hz generators ever made). It supplies electricity at an operating cost (including fuel and maintenance) of 4.3 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2015 dollars. And it uses treated sewer water for cooling. And the entire plant and surrounding support facilities occupies only 4,000 acres of land in a vast desert.

      https://www.google.com/maps/@33.3845139,-112.8528223,9713m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

      And still the Greens hate it. Ask yourself “Why”?

      The obvious answer is, “They hate it because it enables capitalism and freedom for the masses from expensive energy.” And even in sun-rich, cloud-free Arizona, solar power cannot compete with Palo Verde in terms of economy to consumers or to land use by a factor of at least 10 or more.

      • Wow, I wonder what the MIT researchers would say about the color of that algae in those ponds! 😉

        • In that Google satellite picture you can clearly see the following.

          Each of the 3 reactor containment vessels has:
          – 2 Olympic size pools as a cooling pond complex each reactor for immediate spent fuel rod temporary storage.
          – a large generator building to its north-side.
          – a reactor support building with pumps to its southside
          – 3 large evap cooling tower complexes with each reactor to the upper left.

          And note, to the east of the reactors (NE of the electrical switching yard) is the high-level storage area (dry vertical cylinders) for spent fuel rods once they are removed from the ponds and put into their casks. That area is about 45% full.

          And there is real estate for a 4th reactor still. A 4th reactor using treated sewer water for cooling that could provide 24/7/365 reliable CO2-emissions free electricity at less than 5c/KWh.
          The Greens and Tom Steyer hate that.

      • Joel,
        Now – New and Improved! Largest Power Generation Plant in the U.S.A.
        Palo Verde: THREE 1,400 MW Generators = 4,200 MegaWatts – Palo Verde Nuclear Plant Annual net output: 32,340 GWh (2017) Capacity factor: 93.77% (2017)
        Solana: ONE 280 MW = 280 MegaWatts – Solana Concentrated Solar plant Annual net output: 724 GW·h (2017) Capacity factor: 26.26% 1,920 acres – But Oh So Green!! ;>)
        Nearby: TWO 530 MW = 1,060 MegaWatts at Redhawk NGCC plant
        Nearby: ONE 625 MW = 625 MegaWatts SRP Mesquite Generating Station
        TEN Largest U.S.A. Power generation plants:
        Palo Verde Nuclear Station 32,346 GWhs
        Browns Ferry Nuclear Station 26,738 GWhs
        Oconee Nuclear Generating Station 21,193 GWhs
        South Texas Project Nuclear Station 20,652 GWhs
        Grand Coulee Hydroelectric Station 20,266 GWhs
        Braidwood Nuclear Station 20,264 GWhs
        West County Energy Center (NGCC) 19,765 GWhs
        Byron Nuclear Generating Station 19,252 GWhs
        Limerick Nuclear Generating Station 19,077 GWhs
        Scherer Coal-fired Power Plant 18,895 GWhs

    • Yeah, I forgot it’s not just 2 nuclear reactors at PV. Palo Verde is 3 nuclear reactors. **Just** a total of 3.3 gigawatts (GW) of annual average power production (which if all 3 are operating near 100% can make over 4GW). I live in Tucson about 100 miles away to the SE. My reliable 24/7 electric power comes from gas, coal.

      And keen-eyed, observant viewers of Google Maps should note that there are clearly plans and the real estate for a 4th nuclear unit at Palo Verde. And ts not like growing Phoenix isn’t producing enough sewer water for that. 😉

      • If I remember correctly the U of Arizona is big in the climate “science” arena. Please define sewage before it gets flushed.

    • Well it is near the Gila River although it draws its water indirectly through the residents of the nearby towns first. Gives a whole new context to “Once Through”.

      • The Gila River is dry most of the year. The far upstream dams in the White Mountains do provide a reservoir of water for east Phoenix. Phoenix and suburbs do get most of their water now from the Colorado River via the CAP aqueduct. Most of the treated sewer waste water goes to golf courses and municipal parks. But Palo Verde is high priority and gets enough of that waste water to cool the plant 2nd steam cycle via evaporation.

          • Wind direction (down-wind) only if there is ever a containment breach. But they keep plenty of water in the surrounding ponds to keep the reactors cooled to shut-down state to prevent that. The Fukashima reactors did not have the 4-feet thick concrete containment vessel that all US pressurized reactors have.

            The humidity is so low in Arizona, the added water vapor is a nothing to the atmosphere.

        • It’s lucky for the golf course owners that there are almost no oil fields in Arizona. In Texas some towns have started selling their treated sewer waste water to drilling operators as fraccing water.

    • South Texas Project Nuclear Station also is not located, well it is located by, but doesn’t use, outside water for cooling, but to replenish the reserve:

      http://www.twdb.texas.gov/surfacewater/rivers/reservoirs/stpegs/index.asp

      “The South Texas Project Electric Generating Station (STPEGS) site is located on 12,220 acres along the west bank of the Colorado River in Matagorda County, Texas. The site is approximately 15 miles southwest of Bay City, Texas and is owned by NRG Energy, Inc., Austin Energy, and CPS Energy. The facility consists of two electric-generating units, which share a closed-cycle recirculating cooling reservoir for heat dissipation. The Main Cooling Reservoir (MCR) associated with the STPEGS is a 7,000-acre off-channel reservoir which is capable of containing 202,600 acre-feet of cooling water at its maximum operating level. Construction was completed in 1979 and initial filling started July 1, 1983.

      The MCR covers an area of approximately 3 miles by 4 miles and is formed by an embankment approximately 12.4 miles long. The embankment is 40 to 50 feet above the ground surface elevation. Erosion protection of the interior slope is a 2.5 foot thick layer of soil-cement. Grass is used for erosion protection on the exterior embankment slope. A system of some 770 relief wells has been installed in the embankment to relieve excess hydrostatic pressure. Make-up water is withdrawn intermittently from the Colorado River adjacent to the site to replace losses due to evaporation. The only other source of water is direct rainfall which averages 24,500 acre-feet per year.”

  3. ““The second part we’re developing is an air precooler coupled with thermal energy storage,” Jog said. “So at night when the temperatures are low, the system ‘stores’ the cold. And that is used during the peak times to cool the air before it goes to the condenser.”

    It is one thing to try to be efficient, but it gets really picky to even think that precooling of materials for later heating compensation is a major part of the formula. It is not that this is not part of a solution, it is just that we can take such adjustment to an extreme and wonder what the person making the adjustment was wearing —was it heat efficient?

    • I know of a place where “cold is stored”. It is the chiller plant at the University of Pennsylvania. It has a huge refrigeration system that makes ice overnight, which is stored into the next day, then used to chill water that gets pumped to campus buildings for air conditioning. This is done because during air conditioning season in Philadelphia, large electricity customers can get a lower rate for nighttime use than during the times of day when air conditioning is needed most.

      • D.L. Klipstein FYI

        I designed and oversaw the installation of an ice-builder for Wismer Hall, Ursinus College in the 80s which was very energy efficient and revolutionary at the time. Don’t know if it is still operational but if was one of the first installed in Pennsylvania.

    • I made a feasebility study for a closed cooling water system and it turns out to be economical but depending on the local conditions. I wonder if it works for air precooling.

  4. Those of us who have hot-rodded a computer will be unimpressed. It’s really the same problem and the solution is the same. Somehow get the CPU’s heat to a big set of fins. You can pump a fluid or you can use phase change via a heat pipe.

    So why isn’t this standard practice? Big fins are expensive. Evaporative cooling towers are cheap.

    Come to think of it, the radiator in a car is an even better example. Furthermore, the wiki article linked above refers to “closed circuit dry cooling towers”. I really don’t see anything to get excited about. What I do see is a problem of economics, which is something engineers often have trouble with.

    When we were considering a new engineering program, we asked the local industry what they thought. The strong message was that conventional engineers would always produce a solution but, more often than not, it was too expensive to implement. If I had to bet a buck, I’d guess that that’s what’s going on here. It looks like an expensive solution to a problem that was already solved eons ago.
    /rant

    • The radiator in a car is more a convector, but I get your point. They should not be painted black!

      Anyway, big cooling fins and fans. An IBM 3745 communications controller had CPU’s that were called thermal conduction modules (TCM) and they had a big heatsink sat on top of size about 6″ cubed with dozens of fins arranged in the direction of airflow. It was beautifully made and a bit fragile. Both the TCM and the heatsink had to be installed and torqued up in a specific way so as not to bend any of the over 900 pins on the TCM and countless fins. And on top of all that sat a massive AC powered fan. Consumed lots of power.

      Evaporative cooling is proven and best. As I understand, power stations don’t consume water. They use it for cooling and then return it to the system it came form, typically cleaner than before. So, this seems a total waste of time.

      Nuclear plants are best because they can generate so much power they can be placed on a coast and use sea water desalinated.

      • An excellent suggestion and one that was omitted by the promoters of this device. Any large scale power plant benefits from locating near the ocean. I live not too far from one in Long Beach, CA.
        Farms don’t use salt water. Farms use fresh water.
        Cooling systems that use salt water don’t compete with farms…or people.
        Cooling systems that use salt water and as a byproduct generate fresh water are people friendly and agriculturally friendly. Furthermore they probably produce salt as a byproduct as well.

        BTW the warmer water out-flowing at the mouth of the San Gabriel River seems pleasant enough to attract a population of sea turtles and juvenile great whites.

        • Like wildlife doesn’t like warm. Those pesky little monkeys lazing about in thermal pools up in the mountains in Japan, in winter!

        • Just try getting Coastal Commission in CA to approve an intake/outfall system these days. Dont hold your breathe.

  5. Wow, how great this is! Just as Earth starts to enter a probable multi-decade period of global cooling, these clever engineers come up with a better method to warm air temperatures around the world . . . well, at least to better warm the atmosphere in those countries still using thermal cycle power plants.

    Way to go, humans!

      • You are right.
        It ends up in the area’s water-cloud-air cycle in any case and will dissipate.
        It would help with the issues with the local heating of bodies of water, which could be a positive.

  6. “We use carefully controlled experimentation coupled with computational modeling,” Manglik said. “Modeling helps us understand the physics. Experiments give us the results that can be used to optimize design.”

    Isn’t this backwards? Nevertheless, this is an important problem. Unless we can harness fusion with direct conversion and avoiding a thermal cycle.

  7. Spoken like true academics.

    The idea that companies that are spending their own money wouldn’t be eager to throw out technology that is proven and reliable for the latest gimmicks coming out of the universities is something that they just can’t comprehend.

    Demonstrate that your ideas are efficient enough to over come the added costs, then demonstrate that they won’t have to be replaced every few years, and you will catch the eye of power plant operators.

  8. “In other cases, warmer water is pumped back into lakes, rivers or bays, which can raise the ambient temperature, killing fish and other aquatic organisms and creating toxic algae blooms. Scientists call this “thermal pollution.””

    In some areas of Florida, that “thermal pollution” saves the lives of cold-stressed Manatees every year.

    • That power-plant waste heat is SO critical to Manatees in Fla that when FPL shut down an old coal-fired plant on the Indian River that the EPA made them put in a warm-water generating station just to keep the Manatees warm in the winter.

  9. I’m happy to see an evaluation of the efficiency of the power plant cooling process. I’d like to see the same rigor applied to the net efficiency of wind and solar power systems.

    • Measuring the net efficiency of wind and solar power systems: A good place to start would be metering the power coming into wind turbines. I do know from personal observation that it is not uncommon to power wind turbines during calm weather (prevent shaft bending, heat propeller blades, maintain lubricating temperature and rotate the turbine to position into the wind).

  10. If the fin design really does significantly help improve heat transfer into the airflow, the real money-making use for this design (the greatest benefit to society) is likely as better radiators for automobiles’ internal combustion engine.
    Maybe initially in racing cars where performance is king, then perhaps more broadly as production costs come down to similar to current radiator prices.

    • This has applications throughout the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) industry. Any place there is a fluid to fluid heat exchanger this potentially has applications.
      I’m trying to understand from the images how this is to work. It appears as though it is intended to act as a convoluted membrane separating two parallel streams. Are these welded shut with flat plates or back-to-back to create closed channels.

  11. “Like the radiator of a car, the condenser has a meshwork of metal fins specially designed by UC’s researchers to draw heat away in the circulated air.

    UC engineers designed new condenser fins that shed heat more efficiently in power plants.
    CREDIT Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

    UC’s researchers developed enhanced metal fins with a unique geometric design that favorably alters the air flow over them. This provides far better heat convection for cooling steam in the air-cooled condenser.”

    Ignoring the minor fact that engineers have worked on metal fin heat exchange efficiency extensively for over sixty years.

    Nor have they demonstrated that their fins are superior or are industrially strong enough for cooling nuclear facilities or even coal/gas electric generating facilities.

    “We use carefully controlled experimentation coupled with computational modeling,” Manglik said. “Modeling helps us understand the physics. Experiments give us the results that can be used to optimize design.”

    More playing with models then issuing research results via press releases.

    “Laboratory scale tests suggested the researchers’ system can reduce the cooling temperature from today’s 140 degrees to as low as 115 degrees”

    Laboratory scale tests, temperatures as low as 115 degrees… Is that Fahrenheit or Celsius?

    ” In the summer, electricity demand typically peaks during the hottest part of the day when a plant’s cooling systems are least efficient.”

    Really!?
    Least efficient? Such detail and clarity…
    So, cooling water temperatures from 140° is more difficult during hotter weather?

    “Professors Jog and Manglik are developing a better system to precool the circulated air using a heat sink that captures cooler temperatures at night.”

    Ah yes, now they include a cold sink, or cold storage if you will.

    So, do they plan to have twice the precooling than is necessary normally? Otherwise, how do they ensure sufficient cooling when the cooling towers normally run all night?

    “The UC researchers have been working on patenting their ideas since submitting their grant proposal in 2015. Manglik said their results of the full-scale experiments will have to be persuasive.”

    Another “get rich quick” scheme that requires the government to fund their full scale size “experiments”?

    “Dr. Jog has special talents in computational physics and modeling,” Manglik said. “I add to that experimental insights.”

    Models and untested laboratory research.
    There used to be a requirement that researchers scaled their research to proof their processes, before companies expend funds unnecessarily.

    We are so unimpressed.

    • Oh my, now we don’t even trust fluid dynamics and heat transfer models?

      And the article itself says:

      “Now UC is partnering with Taneytown, Maryland, company EVAPCO on a large-scale prototype test of the design at the company’s labs.
      […]
      UC’s researchers also are working with Babcock & Wilcox, in Lancaster, Ohio, which in 2016 acquired the Italian company SPIG specializing in power plant cooling systems.”

      So yes, large-scale testing is coming. After lab-scale testing.
      Or should it be the other way around, large-scale test first, then model?

      I’m confused. It’s so easy to say NAY.

      • “Large scale”?
        Exactly what does that mean?
        Large is a relative term.
        That is, if one has a small item, a medium sized item and a large item, then calling the largest one “large” has meaning.

        Otherwise, it is a subjective term used instead of detailed specifications.

        A) Are they building a nuclear plant sized prototype?
        B) Are they building a Natural Gas electrical generation sized prototype?
        C) Are they building a coal plant sized prototype?
        D) Are they building a prototype somewhat larger than the university laboratory can hold?

        Odds are, they are building D, a slightly larger laboratory scale prototype. i.e., The EVAPCO laboratory is hopefully bigger than the university’s lab.
        No guarantees, as their language is purposely vague.

        “Oh my, now we don’t even trust fluid dynamics and heat transfer models?”

        “The two researchers used their backgrounds in experimental heat transfer, computational modeling and fluid dynamics to design a better air-cooled condenser for power plants. “

        In spite of convoluted insinuations, there is not any statement that they are using certified fluid dynamics and heat transfer models.

        Instead, they claim:

        “Dr. Jog has special talents in computational physics and modeling,” Manglik said. “I add to that experimental insights. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty — literally.”

        Doesn’t that instill a warm fuzzy feeling of dedicated engineering, certified models and sincere complete experiment design, testing and analysis?

        “The UC researchers have been working on patenting their ideas since submitting their grant proposal in 2015.”

        Oh yes, apply for patents first, then apply for the grant.

        “The inertia in engineering systems is mind-boggling. You go to an oil refinery or a petrochemical plant, and some of the technologies being used are 40 or 50 years old,” Manglik said. “Efficiency is not always a measure that matters.”

        A wordy speciously vague statement that fails to actually describe the cooling processes of the refineries or plants.
        A statement based upon the assumption that assumes all plants and refineries fail to calculate or track their “Energy Efficiency Rating” EER, or since the researchers above mention, again rather speciously, daily temperatures, the “Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating” SEER ratings as indicators.

        “Or should it be the other way around, large-scale test first, then model?
        I’m confused. It’s so easy to say NAY.”

        That is your false strawman.
        My summation was:

        “Models and untested laboratory research.
        There used to be a requirement that researchers scaled their research to proof their processes, before companies expend funds unnecessarily.
        We are so unimpressed.”

        Instead, the reality is that:
        1) Two researchers have filed patents on unproven ideas. All right, if one has the cash to waste. Last I heard from a patent seeker, the process costs $50,000+ if one properly researches all prior patents, fills out the paperwork properly and seeks necessary legal advice and representation.

        2) The experiment is actually conducted by two doctoral students: “UC doctoral students Kuan-Ting Lin and Dantong Shi tested a small prototype in an engineering lab”.
        * i) Exactly why would a doctoral student report adverse results when their doctorates likely depend on positive results?

        3) The researchers have already announced their research to the world, before achieving solid provable positive results. Otherwise, why would they use waffle words as descriptives?
        e.g. “scale tests suggested”:

        4) These researchers make specious claims about:
        * i) existing plants and refineries,
        * ii) alleged environmental damages,
        * iii) a need for increased plant complexity through additional heat sinks to help with cooling. One does wonder how much additional space will required for heat sinks? One also wonders exactly how they plan to test commercially viable heat sinks?

        At this point, the Department of Energy should assess and possibly investigate this grant.

        Let these researchers obtain funding by proving their work to investors and commercial enterprises!
        Right now, these researchers are green trough feeders, dependent upon taxpayer funding.

    • This is the way models should be used.
      They go back and forth between the computer models and constructed models, rocking in their design constantly validating both.

      Just because Climate models are being misused is not evidence that all models are useless.

  12. Measuring the net efficiency of wind and solar power systems: A good place to start would be metering the power coming into wind turbines. I do know from personal observation that it is not uncommon to power wind turbines during calm weather (prevent shaft bending, heat propeller blades, maintain lubricating temperature and rotate the turbine to position into the wind).

  13. In other cases, warmer water is pumped back into lakes, rivers or bays, which can raise the ambient temperature, killing fish and other aquatic organisms and creating toxic algae blooms. Scientists call this “thermal pollution.”

    As a child I recall visiting the canal beside a thermal outflow from a Pilkington’s glass plant near Liverpool.
    The canal steamed gently, and there was a large crowd of locals fishing the canal which had a thriving population of guppies and other tropical fish that one might normally only see in an aquarium outside of the tropics.
    The otherwise-dreary canal was teeming with life and activity. It was a wonderful sight to behold on a freezing winter’s day in Northern England. I’m sure it wouldn’t be allowed today.

  14. So it warms air instead of water. Why is dumping waste heat into air more environmentally desireable than dumping it into water? This will surely change the microclimate in areas near the cooler.

    Also, we should be looking for Stevenson screens downwind if these are ever installed.

    • Quite coaldust. A good point.
      In fact dumping waste energy into the air is NOT environmentally desirable. Dumping it into water as Latent Heat via cooling towers IS ; as the vapor rises up through the atmosphere carrying this energy with some of it winding up in the cirrus clouds where the energy is dissipated into space.

      This is the process that keeps the planet cool and is called the Rankine Cycle. (Nothing to do with CO2.)
      The water, of course, returns to earth; so is not lost.

  15. ““At some point this will be a water crisis — and it will be rather soon,” Manglik said.” The planet’s surface is 70% water averaging around 5km in depth. The only crisis is one of imagination.

  16. “Modeling helps us understand the physics. Experiments give us the results that can be used to optimize design.”

    They use experiments? Whatever for? Computer models tell us everything we need to know. No need to compare it with reality.

  17. Research into more efficient compressors, heat exchangers, and transmission technology would seem to be more fruitful than climate modeling

  18. Outflow from the power plant near Ft. Myers, Florida provides warm water which help the manatees survive through the winter cold.

    • Also on the southeast coast of Florida where the Manatees and the salt water Crocodiles enjoy the extra heat.

  19. It seems a good idea, and could lead to smaller radiators in cars and trucks. Nic e to see a model been used, then tested by experiment. i

    The question I would ask while this mainly applies to nuclear, it also applied to any big project. . Who is going to want their capital tied up for years before getting a return from it ?

    Perhaps in the national interest governments should fund the project, then sell it to private enterprise to actually run it.

    MJE

  20. Those cooling fins may be super efficient, but I wonder if their more complex form will make them a hard-to-clean dust magnet, killing their efficiency.

  21. Molten salt reactors might not need water but the steam turbine system that drives the alternators does.

  22. What will be the size of these radiators, to be most efficient they’re going to take up a lot of acreage. what is the cost. and do you have to have fans to move air across the fins, or will it be natural convection,

  23. We always fished below the power plant in Williamsport Md because the fish love warm water. Same thing at Lake Anna in Virginia. I would guess any ‘harm’ (speculation?) is more than offset by benefits. An engineer from Louisiana once told me that for fishing in the Gulf they head straight to the oil drilling platforms because that is where the fish are. I wonder if these guys know what they are talking about.

  24. And what about all those manatees in Florida that cluster around the Florida nuke plants to keep warm?

  25. developed a more efficient air-cooling system for power plants

    This is complete ignorance. Closed-cycle water-cooling for western power plants has already been the norm for decades (re-uses the same water over & over). That’s what the dang cooling towers are for…..

  26. Fin fans! Already being used at small scale in updated refineries. Only DOE would give 3.4 million to study scaling the idea up, I suppose.

    It was largely concerns over water usage that led to evaporative cooling towers in the 1960s.

  27. Heat transfer engineering is already far past the content of this article. Any heat transfer engineer knows his/her extended area and turbulence enhancement stuff already….and a lot more.

  28. “If Successful” 95% of science writing is pure speculation. 5% reports successful research being implemented in the real world.

  29. The obvious low carbon power technology – molten salt nuclear reactors are air cooled – they
    do not need a body of water for cooling. Two problems solved in one tehnology.

  30. Fishing was always good by the electrical generating plant on Lake Erie near Cleveland, Ohio. Fish seemed to like that warmer water.

  31. If the new cooling system works it would indeed be a great improvement.
    Using cooling water from the river/seas affects the fish [here at Koeberg many types of fish could not take the heat]. Not to speak of the fact that raising the temperature of waters ultimate raises the RH around which causes global warming …
    not so?
    Click on my name to go and figure.

  32. Excerpted quote from article:

    UC’s researchers developed enhanced metal fins with a unique geometric design that favorably alters the air flow over them. This provides far better heat convection for cooling steam in the air-cooled condenser.

    “The flow of air gets disrupted with more mixing and more efficient heat transfer (conduction) compared to traditional fins used on these air-cooled condensers,” Jog said.

    Well now, …… relying primarily on conduction and convection to attain maximum “heat” dispersal is all well and good, ….. but, …… ignoring the potential of heat radiation is not all well and good.

    Heat will transfer or migrate across the surface of a smooth object, … but will radiate from the surface if it encounters a “sharp” corner or projection on said surface.

    Thus, the “cooling” fins on a “radiator” not only provides a greater surface area for conduction of heat to the air molecules making “contact” with said, ….. but also greatly enhances the radiation of heat from said “radiator”, …….. which gives reason for its name. 😊

  33. I can’t actually find a “down-side” to this idea – assuming it works. They are right, private industry often just keeps using a proven technology unless there is some external force (regulations, costs) to push them into developing a new idea. It is quite possible that “cooling technology” has not kept up with the pace of scientific discovery. I’ll give them this point.

    So, using a better manifold design you could maximize surface area that is in contact with moving air. Using new materials you could optimize heat transfer. It might be too expensive to have used these in a car’s radiator, but might actually be cost effective in a large industrial setting, especially if a rising cost is being realized in water use. Again, I’ll give them this point.

    The third change that is not discussed, is that heat transfer will increase in efficiency the greater the heat difference between the source and the sink. This means another improvement would be in being able to operate power generation at a higher temperature. This would also reduce the effect of trying to cool the generator down during a hot day… If the generator runs at say 1,500 degrees (F) and the air temperature is 100 degrees (F), then your delta is 1,400 (F). If instead your could run that generator at 2,000 (F), the delta is 1,900 (F) and more efficient heat transfer could be achieved. (of course, your generator might be melting at this temperature, it is only a thought example, not a real case)

    Another possibility (maybe a 4th option) is to build the cooling elements further off the ground. Not only would this allow you to build bigger heat exchangers (vertical) but should contact more wind at a cooler temperature.

    (and now for a little humor) The obvious place to build such heat exchanges would be right next to temperature sensing stations. This would help to facilitate the necessary global warming needed to validate AGW. So now we can get the Greens behind this effort.

  34. It may be a good idea if the economics work, however, 90% of water withdrawn for cooling is returned to the lake or river from which it came.
    The hysteria over killing fish is way overstated.

  35. Writing as an Engineer that has worked in the power industry for over 35 years. There are very few once through cooling systems remaining in service at power plants in the U.S.. Most of the plants that did still have one after the mid to late 80s were used as peaking units. Those were older plants and since then many have been retired. Almost all power plants that were operating in the 80s and 90s were retrofitted with cooling towers to dissipate the heat generated by the plants. Some cooling ponds were used but they are land intensive and tend to fill up with stuff reducing their effectiveness. This reduces the thermal impact on the surrounding waterways and reduces the water usage at power plants.

    In the early 2000s there was a drive to eliminate the plume emitted from standard cooling towers. The use of dry cooling utilizing air cooled condensers were developed and used at many new power plants. Some retrofits were done near cities where visibility was an issue. These have been around for a fairly long time and one of the benefits is that they do tremendously reduce water usage. These are also used in many arid areas due to the water savings.

    A power plant with an air cooled condenser system will typically have reduced plant efficiency and output in the hotter part of the year when the power demand is at it’s highest. Thermodynamics gets in the way again. However some of the air cooled condensers are equipped with water sprays to enhance the performance of the condenser during those hot times.

    In my mind these gentlemen are just refining and improving a technology that has been around for a while.

  36. ‘Scientists call this “thermal pollution.”’

    Fishermen call them “hot spots.” As in great places to fish. The stupid fish like these terrible places.

  37. If this can be scaled to be commercially viable (and I see this as a BIG if), it could be useful for France where their nuclear power stations are river cooled and have had to reduce output when river temperatures get too high for their regulations.

    https://www.reuters.com/article/france-nuclearpower-heatwave/french-nuclear-production-reduced-by-3-1-gw-due-to-heatwave-rte-idUSL5N1UU5JG
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/aug/12/france.nuclear

    Then again, Macron seems hell bent on shutting down the French nuclear fleet…

  38. This is old news and definitely not a new invention. Saudi Aramco has been using fin-fan condensers/coolers for many decades. Saudi arabia can’t use endless amount of water for cooling in desert oil/gas separation/fractionation and compression facilities. It seems that we’re recycling old news and inventions all over again. Give me a break

  39. Engineer with 12 years of power plant experience here. The reason that closed cycle cooling uses boring and inefficient tube exchangers is that eventually the inner surfaces will foul. They will then need cleaning to gain back their original efficiency or at least a good fraction of it. This can be done with chemical cleaning to a certain extent. Sooner or later you need to physical lay scrape out the “gaak” lining the walls of the exchanger.

    From the pictures at the top of the article these exchangers would be problematic to clean. They would most likely run with a heavy fouling factor which would rob them of their advantage over tubes. My opinion only.

  40. What IS true – there’s drought years when rivers levels fall that low that on some spots fish can’t no more leave the spots*. And die.

    * and there’s no bleading hearts nature preserving NGO’s walking along the rivers freeing the isolated fish.

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