Low-finned tubes can be effective in baffled flow heat exchangers, if the heat transfer coefficients on either side of the heat exchanger differ greatly and therefore limit the thermal conductance of the heat exchanger. Low-finned tubes can increase thermal conductance by providing additional heat transfer area on the limiting side.

The height and the spacing of the low-fins must be greater than the thickness of the thermal boundary layer on the low-finned side of the heat exchanger. Otherwise, the effectiveness of the additional area that the low-finned tubes provide will be reduced. The boundary layer thickness is dependent on the velocity and the thermophysical properties of the fluids. Therefore, in a standard shell-and-tube heat exchanger, the number of heat exchanger shell-side baffles needs to be properly considered to provide the correct shellside velocity without introducing too much pressure drop.

Testing of a shell-and-tube heat exchanger containing low-finned tubes varied the flow rate and pressure of the supercritical CO2 on the shell side as water provided the cooling on the tube side. The testing maintained the temperature and pressure of the CO2 above the critical point in order to determine the changes in the effectiveness of the low-finned tubes and thus the heat transfer rate of the heat exchanger.

The results show that the additional heat transfer area provided by the low-finned tubes will remain fully effective, even as the supercritical fluid nears its critical point or a pseudo-critical temperature. This result also supports (but is not sufficient to prove) the guidance to limit the estimated thickness of the thermal boundary layer to the fin height and twice the fin spacing to ensure the additional heat transfer area provided by the low-finned tubes remain effective.

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