Dry cooling towers are an alternative cooling method when large quantities of water are not available. Examples of the proposed applications are the enhanced geothermal and concentrated solar thermal (CST) power plants in arid or semi-arid areas, like south-western United States, Australia, western Asia, north-western China and the rest of the world. Natural draft dry cooling towers (NDDCTs) have received widespread attention because they do not consume water, have low maintenance requirements and cause small parasitic losses. Unfortunately, the performance of a NDDCT is severely reduced when the ambient air is hot, which is because the NDDCT is driven by buoyancy effect and relies solely on air to cool the working fluid. The present study introduces inlet air pre-cooling using wetted media, which combines dry and wet cooling. The wet cooling system only operates at high ambient temperatures to assist dry cooling. However, wetted-medium cooling introduces extra pressure drop which reduces the air flow passing through the NDDCT and thus impairs the tower heat rejection. To this end, this paper takes into account the trade-off between the wetted-medium cooling and the extra pressure drop. Early studies find that the performance of NDDCTs can be improved by wetted-medium evaporative pre-cooling when the ambient air is hot and dry. However, the pre-cooling enhancement is seasonal-dependent and is significantly affected by wetted media. To further investigate the effect of wetted medium type on pre-cooling performance, the current study simulates a pre-cooled NDDCT using five selected wetted media (i.e., three film and two trickle media) based on a self-developed MATLAB program. The innovations of the current study are: (1) two typical types of wetted media with the potential of evaporative pre-cooling are comparatively studied to give suggestions for future pre-cooling design; (2) the characteristics of wetted media suitable for evaporative pre-cooling of NDDCTs are summarized.

The simulation finds that the media with high or low cooling efficiencies and pressure drops are not promising while those media with middle cooling efficiencies and pressure drops intend to produce much performance enhancement of the studied NDDCT. The film medium, Cellulose7060 with pressure drops of 28.6–272.1 Pa/m and cooling efficiency range of 44.7–88.5% is most promising for such pre-cooling enhancement. For the studied NDDCT, the critical temperatures below which the tower performance does not benefit but is hindered by wetted-medium pre-cooling are 28, 16, 30, 26 and 26°C for cellulose7090, cellulose7060, PVC1200, Trickle125 and Trickle100, respectively (ambient humidity of 20% and medium thickness of 200mm). The pre-cooling enhancements can go up to 100% by 200mm-thick cellulose7060 at extreme hot and dry climate (i.e., ambient temperature of 50°C and humidity of 20%). The simulation will give instructions for the design of pre-cooled NDDCTs.

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