Shell-and-tube vacuum condensers are present in many industrial applications such as chemical manufacturing, distillation, and power production [1–3]. They are often used because operating a condenser under vacuum pressures can increase the efficiency of energy conversion, which increases the overall plant efficiency and saves money. Typical operating pressures in the petrochemical industry span a wide range of values, from one atmosphere (101.3 kPa) down to a medium vacuum (1 kPa). The current shellside condensation methods used to predict heat transfer coefficients are based on data collected near or above atmospheric pressure, and the available literature on shellside vacuum condensation generally lacks experimental data. The accuracy of these methods in vacuum conditions well below atmospheric pressure has yet to be validated.

Recently, HTRI designed and constructed the Low Pressure Condensation Unit (LPCU) with a rectangular shellside test condenser. To date, heat transfer data have been collected in the LPCU for shellside condensation of a pure hydrocarbon and of a hydrocarbon with noncondensable gas at vacuum pressures ranging from 2.8 to 45 kPa (21 to 338 Torr). Traditional condensation literature methods underpredict the overall heat transfer coefficient by 20.8% ± 20.4% for the pure condensing fluid; whereas they overpredict heat transfer by 36.8% ± 40.0% with the addition of the noncondensable gas.

Over or under predicting the overall heat transfer coefficient in the presence of noncondensable gases leads to inefficient condenser designs and the inability to achieve desired process conditions. With the addition of the noncondensable gas, the measured heat exchanger duty was significantly reduced compared to the pure fluid, even at inlet mole fractions below 5%. In one case, a noncondensable inlet mole fraction of 0.63% was estimated to reduce the duty by approximately 10%.

Analysis of the acquired high-speed videos shows that the film thickness changes significantly from the top row to the bottom. The videos also display condensate drainage patterns and droplet interactions. The ripples and splashing of the condensate observed in the videos indicates that the Nusselt idealized model is not appropriate for analysis of a real condenser. This article presents the collected heat transfer data and high-speed images of shellside vacuum condensation flow patterns.

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